Turkey Eyes Ban on Matchmaking Shows

Istanbul skyline

The government tightens regulations after a wave of protests.

The Turkish government has tightened regulations on controversial TV dating shows that have prompted a wave of protests from across the political spectrum.

If producers fail to observe rules on respecting public morals they will face heavy fines and temporary suspensions of five or 10 days for repeated violations with the threat of cancelation of their broadcasting license if they persistently break the law.

Though popular with viewers, the matchmaking reality shows, many of which run daily for up to two hours or more, have attracted a storm of criticism in the predominantly Muslim country for stunts that include pressuring couples to commit to marriage live on air - if not actually tie the knot there and then.

One of the most watched shows, Marriage with Zhulal Topal'la, hosted by an actress and TV personality, airs on Star TV (watch clip below), while other popular series include Esra Erol and Eveleneceksen Gel. A stape of Turkish daytime TV, the shows have attracted the displeasure of religious fundamentalists, feminists and intellectuals from both the right and left wings of Turkey's political spectrum.

Viewers are unhappy with what they see as a vulgar exploitation of the institution of marriage. In one recent episode of Zhulal Topal'la, a young woman danced alone on the studio floor to the cheers and whistles of young men in the audience.

Racier than popular dating shows in the U.K., such as the recently resurrected classic Blind Date or Dinner Date, though not as extreme as "blind walk up the aisle" show Married at First Sight, the series serve a demand that in America, for example, is met with shows such as MTV's Are You The One? or The Dating Game.

Since 2015, Turkey's TV and radio oversight body, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK), has received more than 120,000 viewer complaints about these shows, and a petition organized by feminists attracted nearly 70,000 signatures. Last week lead Turkey's deputy prime minister Niman Kurtulumas declared the shows an endangered species.The government could move to bring in legislation to ban the daytime reality shows as they as they did not fit with Turkish customs or traditions, he suggested.

“There are some strange programs that would scrap the institution of family, take away its nobility and sanctity,” Kurtulmus said in an interview with a regional TV channel. "We are working on this, and we are coming to the end of it. God willing, in the near future, we will most likely remedy this with an emergency decree."

The comments from a minister of Turkey's ruling party the Justice and Development Party (AKP) might usually prove controversial among Turkey's European and westward-looking urban elites, fearful that it is pushing the country towards conservative Islam. But such is the broad distaste for the shows that action is seen as likely to be taken.

“We find rating concerns for TV channels to be normal, but social responsibility should be considered, too. High ratings for a program do not prove the quality of the program, Ilhan Yerlikaya, head of the TV oversight body RTUK according to an English language translation of a story posted by Hurriyet Daily.

RTUK was meeting Thursday with officials from Turkish national TV channels to discuss the new regulations. Deputy prime minister Kutulumus says a draft law is already being drawn up.

"Some of these shows are really out of control. They are against our family values, culture, faith and traditions. They have high ratings and high advertisement revenue because they are so popular,” he said in the regional TV interview last week, adding that RTUK had a duty to respond to the complaints.“More sanctions need to be imposed. We are telling this to the relevant channels. They should have their own control mechanism. But if they cannot do it, the state will then be involved in it.

Complaints to RTUK, which spiked from just over 7,000 in 2015 to nearly 95,000 last year, according to press reports, prompted heavy fines for the producers of the shows. They mostly expressed concern about public morality, swearing and "actions that could hurt the institution of the family".

There have also been complaints about degrading marriage to a pursuit of material objects, judging participants on their appearance, using actors appear as participants in the shows and unpleasant behavior by contestants.

Alin Tasciyan, a film critic and former host of several cinema shows on Turkish TV, told The Hollywood Reporter: "It is important to understand that this is not the government's campaign; starting with feminists, most educated people are against this. Men look for housemaids [on the matchmaking shows] and women for a man to take care of them economically."