Earlier this month YouTube closed Eurasianet's account – “terminated” it, in the social media giant’s lingo – caving to a request from authoritarian Turkmenistan's state broadcaster, Watan Habarlary. We erred, YouTube says, by publishing snippets from the broadcaster’s evening news.
This is censorship fig-leafed with a frivolous claim by a gas-rich dictatorship.
About three years ago, Watan Habarlary began posting its daily news program on YouTube. Each episode runs an hour, and many minutes are dedicated to adulatory footage of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in action: shooting guns, firing ministers, racing cars.
We had been republishing clips from these videos under fair use laws as outlined by YouTube’s parent company, Google: We added contextual and educational insights to the original material; we used it for non-commercial purposes; we used segments lasting just a few minutes out of the total 60.
Eurasianet readers know that Turkmenistan is one of the most closed countries on the planet. As Human Rights Watch says, “Turkmenistan remains an extremely repressive country. The government severely restricts all fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedoms of association, expression, and religion. … Berdymukhamedov, his relatives and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life.”
By terminating our channel, YouTube blocked access to other videos, including original material shot inside Turkmenistan, that the regime must consider embarrassing – such as the first footage to emerge in 2013 of Berdymukhamedov falling off his horse during a race in Ashgabat. The government never acknowledged the mishap and our cameraman had to smuggle the tape out of the country.
But YouTube says that video can no longer live on its platform because we allegedly violated Watan Habarlary’s copyright elsewhere.
The bitter irony, it seems, is that YouTube – itself blocked in Turkmenistan – has endorsed the country’s dictatorship over one of the few independent media outlets covering it.