Several new media bills have recently been approved around the world which intend to restructure the media’s principles. Venezuela, Cuba, Hungary and Turkey are the latest examples of new media bills, though not all in the same direction.
Not long ago, the Venezuelan government proposed a new bill in its parliament to regulate the internet media. Reuters Canada reported that ‘’Manuel Villalba, a lawmaker from President Hugo Chavez’s Socialist Party, said the law was aimed at protecting citizens. The bill proposes applying limits on content in electronic media according to the time of day, with adult content reserved for programing after midnight. The bill also proposes allowing the government to restrict access to websites if they’re found to be distributing messages or information that incite violence against the president. Chavez frequently accuses the opposition of plotting to kill him,’’. The opposition claims that this will result in censorship .The Venezuelan government has frequently said that the country’s elite uses the media to undermine Chavez and uses its own one-sided reporting of news as a backlash to the government in a ‘communications war’.
Chavez’s ally, Cuba, has already passed such restrictive media bills for the web, especially for social networks such as Twitter which are ‘’hugely popular with critics of the president.’’ It is ironical to see the social network restrictions when Chavez himself is an avid Twitter user and ‘’has more than 1 million followers to his account @chavezcandanga’’.
In Hungary, not that long ago, several prominent newspapers appeared with blank front pages in protest of the new media bill. The new legislation now being debated in parliament would allow the officials to impose heavy fines on privately run publications for ‘’unbalanced’’ coverage of sex, violence and alcohol. The opposition says that the new media bill is too vague, creates a ‘’watchdog against journalists, against transparency and against the profession as a whole”. One editor-in-chief said, ‘’we will be at the mercy of the whims of the council”. (Quote Gabor Gavra Editor, hirszerzo.hu)
‘’Under the new legislation, Hungarian media outlets will have to fill at least half of their programming with European productions, rather than those from overseas, while radio stations will have to dedicate at least 25% of airtime to Hungarian music. One proposal in the bill is to allow the Media Council – whose current members are all government nominees – to issue fines which can only be appealed against after they have been paid.’’ This would mean that some publications will not be able to remain in business. The aim is to “guarantee the freedom of members of the [media] branch, while protecting the interests of the community”, said parliamentary deputy Erzsebet Menczer, one of the authors of the bill.
In Turkey, the Turkish Constitution Committee passed a bill that changed the limits of foreign ownership in Turkish media. Before, foreign companies could own only 25% of Turkish media; now, the new bill doubled potential foreigner’s shares to 50%.
This new Turkish bill, called ‘’a Radio and Television Establishment and Broadcast Services bill’’, is valid for all kinds of media and intends ‘’ to encourage equality in radio and television broadcasting,” according to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. A parliamentary committee discussed and approved the 50-article bill. According to the Telegraph, this is a new chance to invest in Turkey. Today a prominent media corporation in Turkey approximately costs 200 million USD (For instance, Aydın Doğan purchased Star TV for 306 mil. USD) The new bill also makes it possible for foreign owners to become partners in more than one media organization. “Foreign capital should also enter the country in this field and have some opportunities. This bill creates an equal free market among the Turkish media” said Arınç.
However, there are some Turkish patriots who objects to this bill, believing that this will end the Turkish authority in the media. In my opinion, there is no need to worry because this media bill only creates an equal market for foreigners and Turks will therefore only benefit Turkey. Logically, there will not be a day when the Turkish Parliament will allow full media ownership by foreigners. I can sympathise with the worries of the Turkish patriots about bias due to all the privatizations that have taken place during the Ak Party administration, but I do not believe the new media bill is against Turkish sovereignty.
On the other hand, the Turkish Parliament’s Constitution Committee, in the beginning of January 2011, discussed a new bill that would ‘’bring harsher punishments to media institutions for controversial content’’. The Constitutional Committee met to discuss ‘’the new Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, law, which brings heavy fines to TV shows that include racy images or use vulgar language’’.
Speaking during discussions, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who oversees RTÜK, said ‘’media institutions already expected such a bill’’. He also said ‘’Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, or TRT, was outside the supervision of RTÜK and that RTÜK should also oversee TRT broadcasts in the same way it does private televisions’’.
The new bill intends to stop footage of terror and violence, with the uppermost reason of preventing ‘’support for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK’s, cause’’. ‘’Bloody explosions, clashes between Turkish security forces and terrorists, and images of those injured in conflict will be banned. If a channel supports terror and the division of religious sects or goes against the principles of Atatürk, as defined in the Constitution, their license will be revoked after only one warning. Programs that evoke hate in public, encourage breaking the law and exploit or constrain women will have to pay a fine of at least 10,000 Turkish Liras, without prior warning’’.
Also sexy scenes will be banned from TV shows to stop “damaging the structure of family”. The new media bill will also protect the ‘’correct’’ use of the Turkish language, banning ‘’vulgar’’ language. ‘’An interesting regulation has been brought to cartoons and children’s shows: At least 20 percent of cartoons and 40 percent of other children’s programs must be made in Turkey and must contain elements of Turkish culture’’. ‘’Radio and television stations, in set rates and times, must air programs featuring Turkish folk music and Turkish classical music’’. ‘’The draft law prevents political parties and other institutions and associations from owning TV channels’’. ‘’Media bosses and corporations are being restricted too, with the law stating that a single person or corporation can own only four TV channels’’. (Daily News) Although, personally, I see no risk in the foreign media ownership in Turkey, I do not have the same assurance about the changes in the content of the coverage of media.
One thing that is sure, media principles are changing all over the world. Whether they are being changed for the sake of free thought and free speech or for the sake of free manoeuvre of governments is to be seen.