Censorship standoff sparks concerns of Netflix’s withdrawal from Turkey

Reports that Netflix is scrapping a Turkish series following a stand-off with the Turkish government over a gay character have sparked a discussion on the streaming platform’s complete withdrawal from the country.

On Saturday, several Turkish news outlets reported that Netflix was pulling on the plug on teen comedy drama Aşk 101 (Love 101) after Turkey’s state broadcasting regulator RTÜK pressed to censor a leading gay character.

The total financial cost of RTÜK’s condemnation of the series that premiered earlier this year is a whopping 35 million lira ($5.1 million) for the ten-episode season, each episode amounting to 3.5 million lira, Fatih Altaylı wrote in column in HaberTürk on Saturday.

“From now on, interest in Turkish series and productions will increasingly decline and one considers the shows that these companies will no longer have produced in Turkey, the loss is great,” Altaylı said.

Television series have become on of Turkey’s most prestigious exports since the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2012, with hundreds of series being sold to over 100 countries in Eastern Europe, South America and South Asia and the Middle East. The export of Turkish dramas reached $500 million in 2018, according to A Haber news.

At home, frustration is growing over Ankara’s intervention in the entertainment industry. Controlled by allies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, RTÜK has come under fire for turning increasingly conservative under the 18-year rule of his AKP. 

Director Ece Yörenç weighed in on the negotiation breakdown, telling Turkish entertainment website Fasikül on Sunday that it was “very scary’’ that the series’ production was not permitted over a gay character.

The character in question, Osman, engages in no physical acts of intimacy in the show yet the government is still halting production, Yörenç told Fasikül.

Turkish pop singer Demet Akalın took to Twitter on Sunday to express her dismay at the reports of Netflix’s departure from Turkey.

“Netflix saved our souls during the quarantine! Whoever doesn’t wish to watch it simply won’t,” Akalın said, referring to the Aşk 101. “This is no good. Where are we going to watch Netflix now?’’

Akalın, a pro-government figure, later deleted her tweet saying she was “caught up in the moment”, and wondered when Netflix would release an official statement on the show to end speculation.

Netflix has yet to release a statement over the series in question.

In 2018, Reed Hastings, the cofounder and CEO of Netflix dismissed concerns of the Netflix being forced out of Turkey over tightening censorship rules at the time.

“We’re in Saudi Arabia. We’re in Pakistan. If there are no problems there, will we have problems in Turkey? I can’t imagine that,” Hastings told Hürriyet newspaper.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.