Turkey Blocks News Sites, Twitter, Facebook After Deadly Attack

Once again, Turkey's government has cracked down on media after a terror attack

Jun 28, 2016 at 8:15 PM ET

Less than an hour after a coordinated suicide attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that left dozens dead and many more wounded, Turkey’s government resumed a tactic frequently seen since last summer: a gag order for the country’s media outlets. Less than an hour later, watchdog groups reported Twitter and Facebook were inaccessible inside the country.

The order, issued by the Turkish Prime Minister’s office on the grounds of “national security and public order,” bans sharing of any visuals of the moment of explosion, blast scene, emergency work, of the wounded and dead, or any “exaggerated narrative” about the scene. It also bans the act of sharing any information about the suspects.

It was initially posted to the website of the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (known by its Turkish acronym, RTUK) at 11:15 pm Turkish time. Less than an hour later, an Istanbul court extended the ban to “all news, interviews, and visuals regarding the incident,” and said it applied to “any written and visual media, digital media outlets, or social media.” Turkish internet service providers quickly blocked access to Facebook and Twitter.

Detailed images of the scene and information about the suspects, the court cautioned, could damage the criminal investigation, spread “fear and panic, which may serve to the intentions of terrorist groups,” and even “may harm society as a whole.”

Turkey’s censorship of news about government misconduct or security failures had increased exponentially since April 2015, when the country amended its notorious “Internet Law” to authorize ministers to ban internet content concerning “national security and public order.” In April, images of a public prosecutor being held hostage by gunmen triggered a widespread gag order, instructing the country’s internet service providers to block Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube altogether.

Three months later, an ISIS suicide bomb attack against leftist students in the town of Suruç prompted a gag order and prompted the removal of hundreds of news articles that depicted images from the attack. As the country experienced repeated terror attacks in months that followed, researchers began to describe Turkey’s tendency to issue media bans as a “rapid response system.”

Critics in Turkey have criticized previous blackout orders, claiming that the bans intend to protect the image of the government and cause self-censorship among the media more than help investigations. In the last five years, the Turkish government has issued more than 150 gag orders on subjects ranging from government corruption to natural disasters.

The gag orders might have more immediate, unintended consequences: In the hours after Tuesday’s bombing, organizations like the Red Cross and Turkish Airlines were sharing information about aid efforts and flights on Twitter—where many people inside the country may have been blocked from accessing it.