Press Freedom

The Council of State has rejected the case against the ‘censorship circular’

The Council of State has rejected the lawsuit filed by the Legal Team of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) against the Presidential circular titled “Press and Publishing Activities,” which was published in 2022. The rejection was justified on the grounds that the circular “contains vague statements” and “does not introduce general rules.”

Published in the Official Gazette on January 29, 2022, the circular number 2022/1 on “Press and Publishing Activities” instructed relevant organizations “to take steps to eliminate the destructive effects of television programs that are contrary to the fundamental values of society or that carry elements aimed at destroying national values.” The circular was widely interpreted as having been prepared with regard to FOX TV’s program “The Masked Singer,” which was heavily debated during that period; civil society and professional media organizations criticized the circular as aiming for censorship in general. 

The lawyers of MLSA’s Legal Team on February 1, 2022 applied to the Council of State, demanding that the circular be repealed on the grounds that it aims to restrict fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. In the petition it was argued that the circular gives way to illegitimate interference with the freedoms of press and expression beyond the limits specified in the Constitution and the international conventions to which Turkey is a party. 

Announcing its decision on the matter, the 10th Chamber of the Council of State ruled that the Presidential circular on “Press and Publication Activities” could “not be subject to administrative litigation.” The Court concluded that the circular had the intention of reminding the relevant institutions of the general legislation. It further specified that apart from calling for sensitivity about moral values and for the protection of the family, children and youth, the circular did not impose a rule on the directors of the relevant institutions. 

In the decision, it is stated that “in light of the fact that the circular contains abstract statements that do not impose general rules – such as reminding of the legislation on the protection of the family, children and youth, requesting that necessary actions be taken to prevent children and young people from being exposed to harmful contents in written, audio and visual media and publications, including social media, requesting all institutions and organizations to show the necessary sensitivity in preventing the spread of threats and dangers not complying with national and moral values and targeting the family, children and young people through written, audio and visual press and publication activities, requesting managers to meticulously follow-up and take the necessary action – it is understood that it constitutes a non-executive and non-regulatory act, which notifies about the implementation of the legislation, reminds the institutions and organizations that were already assigned through legislation of the manner of the process, repeats the provisions of the legislation without introducing rules and without bringing about any change in the legislation, and does not violate the rights and interests of third parties.”

Lawyer Ok: The decision confirms that the circular has no legal status 

Evaluating the rejection decision by the 10th Chamber of the Council of State against the lawsuit which was filed for the annulment of the circular, MLSA Co-Director Veysel Ok said: “Although the decision is unfortunate, its justification is actually similar to the reasoning based on which we petitioned for the annulment. The 10th Chamber has accepted that the circular actually has no legal status.” However, even though the circular does not have a legal status, as lawyer Ok underlines, it has practical implications. Therefore Ok announced that they would appeal the rejection decision by the 10th Chamber and bring the case to the Administrative Chambers of the Council of State.