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YouTube Blocks Channel Of U.S. News Group After Complaints From Turkmen State Media

Turkmen state media devotes lavish coverage to the country's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
Turkmen state media devotes lavish coverage to the country's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

YouTube has blocked a channel belonging to a U.S. news organization known for its coverage of Central Asia, Caucasus, and Russia, after state media in authoritarian Turkmenistan complained about copyright violations.

The site, Eurasianet, said it was notified by Google-owned YouTube that its channel was being blocked after receiving several "takedown notices" over several days this week.

The notices, YouTube said, were filed by Watan Habarlary, the official TV channel belonging to Turkmenistan's State Committee on Television, Radio Broadcasting, and Cinematography.

David Trilling, managing editor for Eurasianet, said the site had struggled to find someone at YouTube to appeal the decision. He said that Eurasianet's website, which publishes mainly in English and Russian, is itself blocked in Turkmenistan, as is YouTube.

"It's ironic given that [YouTube] is blocked in Turkmenistan...just like every other social-media company," he told RFE/RL

Trilling said the organization's YouTube channel had a couple thousand subscribers, and was mainly used to clip videos from the nightly newscast by Turkmen state TV, and embed them in web articles about Turkmenistan. The organization republished the clips under fair-use laws, and were contextualized to give them added news value.

An e-mail sent to Turkmenistan's embassy in Washington, D.C., was not immediately responded to. YouTube did not respond to a message sent by RFE/RL to its main complaints e-mail address.

Eurasianet isn't the first news organization or foreign organization reporting on Turkmenistan to be hit with copyright strikes from YouTube. In May, the Chronicles of Turkmenistan, run by an Austrian-based opposition group, also reportedly had its YouTube channel blocked after complaints from Turkmen state media.

One of the most closed countries in the world, Turkmenistan is run by an authoritarian government that controls all media and strictly limits Internet access and outside media. State media devotes lavish coverage to the country's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The country has some of the world's largest natural-gas reserves.

Trilling said Eurasianet was seeking to move its small online video presence to a smaller network, Vimeo.

YouTube's move comes amid growing questions about the reach and clout of U.S. technology and social-media companies, who critics say hold outsized power to censor, or amplify, people or organizations.

Critics say some of the biggest technology companies -- Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, for example -- have also shown a willingness to bend to the demands of authoritarian governments, to censor information that, for example, might embarrass the government.

In the run-up to last month's elections for Russia's lower house of parliament, Russia demanded that Google and Apple remove from their stores an app that was used by opposition activist Aleksei Navalny to promote candidates who were not from the Kremlin-allied ruling party.

Another popular tech platform, the Telegram messaging app, also removed some Navalny-linked information prior to the election.

Both Google and Apple have local employees in Russia, and the authorities threatened to prosecute them if the U.S. tech giants did not remove the Navalny-backed app.

Other countries like Turkey and India have also increasingly pressured the tech companies to remove or outright censor some political speech.

Housed at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, Eurasianet is a private nonprofit corporation, funded by grants from the Open Society Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the British Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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