For the last four years the government has been working on a bill for regulating radio and television broadcasting services in Turkey. This bill has been promised to finish by the end of 2009 as a part of the country’s bid to harmonize with the EU legislation. However, like the other promises Turkey pledged to the EU, that bill seemed to sit on the shelves of the government for a while. Finally, a few days ago, the draft bill on Radio and Television Broadcasting Services has been announced at a joint press conference by the Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Davut Dursun, the president of Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
In the midst of all the judiciary mess the country is in lately, this draft bill did not attract the attention it deserved. However, I believe if this draft passes through the Parliament (there is no doubt it will), the whole media scene will change drastically. Besides all other regulations, the most controversial amendment is about the increase in foreign investment share. This law permits the foreign investors to own up to 50 % share of a Turkish media company. In the current law, 25 % is the limit for the foreign investors. If Turkey moves forward to the full membership in the EU, limitations on foreign share holding in media companies has to be scrapped two years before joining the EU. Although, there are no restrictions on foreign capital for ownership of radio stations and TV channels, shares of foreign capital in many EU countries are extremely low. For instance, this share is 5 % in Germany, 8 % in Italy, 10 % in Spain, 11 % in the Netherlands, 17 % in Denmark and 19 % in Austria and Greece. Their established economic structure seems not to allow foreign capital to exceed 20 % in many sectors not to mention the media sector. Nobody needs to be a fortune teller to predict that Turkey will welcome the foreign investors with open arms and in a short period of time every national media outlet will have a global partner.
The other interesting item on the draft bill is about the Public Broadcaster, TRT. From now on, Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) will be monitoring TRT in addition to all private channels and stations. For the last decade, TRT was enjoying a relative deregulation in news broadcasting, however, lately TRT raised a few eyebrows with its news gathering. For instance, it alleged that a truck full of explosives is wandering through the streets of Ankara implying a clandestine coup plan. This coverage stunned an already on edge society and finally the transfer of the explosives turned out to be a military routine. So this draft bill included monitoring TRT’s coverage as well. There are overall 52 amendments in the draft law. For instance, RTÜK will also monitor the rating companies. As you see, RTÜK will be granted incredible power than it already has. If we think about the structure and mentality of the regulatory body, this will definitely be a huge problem in the future.
Not all items are controversial though. There are few amendments which bring technical improvements to broadcasting like the ban of loud and excessive background music in news bulletins. The news programs will have to use natural sounds rather than annoying effects. There will be no sudden change allowed in volume level between commercials and programs. In other words, the commercials will not be able to have higher volume than the normal sound level. The first commercial break will only come after 30 minute of a serial and cannot last more than 12 minutes. But I saved my favorite amendment for last. From now on, we will be able to watch our Prime Minister’s and President’s State of the Union addresses before midnight. A law cannot get better than that!