YouTube ban hits judiciary credibility
Turkish Internet users trying to reach YouTube get this error message saying that access to this site has been blocked, without explaining why.
The latest in a series of bans on the popular video sharing Web site YouTube has left some asking if the ill-informed move will have any repercussions on the judiciary's credibility.
It all started when a Turkish Internet user uploaded a video to the popular video sharing Web site YouTube last year, saying that homoaaauality began in Greece and that all Greek men are gay. An angry Greek user responded with an equally childish video, claiming that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was gay. Then came the Turkish newspapers, declaring a "virtual war" between Turks and Greeks on YouTube and calling on Turkish users to "drown" the Greek videos insulting Atatürk by sending messages of protest to YouTube administrators urging them to remove the clips.
The newspapers' online reports on the matter included links to the videos in question and, not surprisingly, the "virtual war" reports helped them increase the traffic on the YouTube clips, thus increasing the number of "clicks" they got. But when the Turkish public set its attention on the Internet fight after newspaper and television reports, so did the prosecutors. YouTube was banned by a court decision over the insulting video and, although access was restored later following the removal of the clip, banning the popular video sharing Web site became a popular trend in the months that followed. YouTube has been banned several times since then -- the latest court decision being issued on May 5 -- mostly on the same grounds: insulting Atatürk.
Turkish Internet users trying to access YouTube get an error message saying that access to the site has been blocked under a court decision, without stating the court ruling and explaining why the popular Web site has been banned. The ban does raise questions on freedom of expression and has been heavily criticized by human rights activists, particularly in the Western media. But Turkish experts are worried more about another question: Will the ban, almost impracticable because of dozens of other ways available to access YouTube, hurt the credibility of the judiciary. Despite widespread disaaaaaaa with the ban, few users in Turaaa have raised their voice against the ongoing limitations. The silence is not that of assent but of indifference: Despite the court ban that blocks access to YouTube, the site can be reached through dozens of other sites. Internet users are enthusiastic about sharing with other users lists of proxy servers that allow one to access YouTube and those not yet familiar with the simple tricks to evade the ban can learn through a quick Internet search.
Nongovernmental organizations, lawyers and Internet professionals agree that banning YouTube is both incorrect and impractical, saying the ban is no different than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand or burning an entire library because of a single book. They warn the ban might in the end harm the courts the most since the failure in implementing it in practice is likely to undermine public confidence in the judiciary.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Turkish Informatics Association (TBD) Chairman Turhan Menteş emphasizes the lack of efficient laws on information technology and complains that a court unfamiliar with the Internet and its technology is allowed to issue decisions regulating them.
"The practical implementation of the decision is impossible. Before issuing a law, they have to think about its feasibility. Otherwise, its credibility in the eyes of people decreases to a large extent," he says. Noting that blocking YouTube damages the prestige of the state, Menteş said, "While there are many more Web sites that have the same type of videos -- deemed to be humiliating Atatürk -- on the net, only YouTube is blocked because it is very popular."
Comparing the blocking of YouTube to ostriches burying their heads into the sand, he said the Web site is accessible everywhere other than Turaaa and that there are other ways to access to the site from within Turaaa. He also indicated that Turaaa does not suffer from the lack of laws on prohibition of online child aaaaagraphy and online gambling, yet regulations on information sharing Web sites like YouTube are quite limited. Unlike foreign press comments linking the YouTube ban to the problem of freedom of expression in Turaaa, Menteş claimed that YouTube and cases of freedom of expression, such as court cases brought against novelist Orhan Pamuk and slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, have nothing in common because there is no state security implication in the case of YouTube.
"The court must abstain from decisions which will show it to be incompetent," said Özgü Eralp, a lawyer and a member of the Ankara Bar Association. "If the decision cannot be implemented, it will bring to mind questions about its power. Is it a crime to access YouTube via other Web sites? We do not know this. There is no indication about this in the law."
He also recalled that it is technically possible to block only problematic videos, yet that would require technical competence and information on the use of particular software. "Sometimes it is necessary to block Web sites exhibiting child porn videos or abetting drug usage or suicide. Therefore we cannot say that we are totally against blocking Web sites. However, YouTube is a beneficial site, and its block prevents us from accessing necessary information," Eralp said.
In a panel discussion organized in early May by the Ankara Bar Association over filtering Web sites and fighting crime committed through the Internet, Mustafa Akgül -- an assistant professor at Ankara's Bilkent University -- said there are more than 100,000 videos on İstanbul and almost 40,000 videos about Atatürk on YouTube and asks, "Who are you punishing with the ban?"
He recalled the movie "Midnight Express," which deviates from the book in its portrayal of Turkish people by presenting them in a negative light. It was prohibited in Turkish theaters. Akgül said Turks could not comment on the movie because they were unable to watch it.
A manager of Turk.internet.com, a Web site for Internet technology professionals, Füsun Sarp Nebil, said that it was wrong to block an entire Web site instead of only problematic pages; she noted that 886 Web sites were blocked in Turaaa in 2006 and compared the ban on YouTube to "burning the entire library because of one book." YouTube officials claim that the Web site helps users raise their voices and express themselves through videos they upload and recalls that users accept the terms and conditions before uploading their videos. They are also open to communication and cooperation with local administrators if aaaaaaas of videos are illegal under local administrations' laws. Bilisimhukuku.net, a Web site on information law, says inappropriate videos can be flagged through the "flag this video" option. In this way allegedly inappropriate videos are sent to the authorities and they are removed from the site if the authorities deem the video violates the Web site's terms and conditions.
Other countries that block YouTube
The popular information sharing Web site has been blocked in many countries for reasons similar to those of Turaaa in 2008. In February Pakistani authorities blocked the Web site for broadcasting videos by Geert Wilder, an anti-immigrant Dutch politician who said the Quran incited people to violence. Following the removal of the videos in question, the ban was lifted. The politician's videos triggered a similar ban in Indonesia in April. After a three-day ban ending on April 11, Indonesian Internet providers lifted the ban on the Web site and decided to only block individual pages with the videos. Syrian officials blocked YouTube and various Web sites like Facebook and Skype, thought to be a danger to state security, while China banned sites about Tibetan protestors attacking China.