BERLIN – Social media speculation about the presence of a gay character in a new Turkish Netflix series, Love 101, has ignited calls for a boycott of the streaming service and sharp criticism from the broadcast regulator.
“We will not tolerate broadcasts that are contrary to the national and spiritual values of our society,” Ebubekir Sahin, president of the Radio and Television Supreme Council, was quoted as saying by Turkish newspaper Yeni Akit this week.
A furor erupted after a now-deleted Twitter account @love101netflix suggested one of the main characters in the show – a story about students helping their teacher find love, which is set to air when Ramadan begins on April 24 – could be gay.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activist and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told The Jerusalem Post on Friday: "The hostile reaction of the president of the Radio and Television Supreme Council is an entirely predictable and shameful bid to censor broadcasters and erase LGBT+ people from public visibility."
Tatchell said that, "Yet again, Islam is being invoked in calls to exclude gay characters from a TV series – this time in Turkey, where LGBT+ Pride parades have been banned in the name of religion. LGBT+ people are a fact of life in Turkey, so it is perfectly reasonable for them to be depicted in the upcoming Netflix series."
Netflix Turkey did not immediately respond to requests to confirm whether @love101netflix was a fake account or whether the show included a gay character.
“A lot of false information is spreading from fake accounts... believe only what you hear from us about the series and the characters, not the rumors,” Netflix Turkey said in an earlier statement.
Although homosexuality is not a crime, there is widespread hostility to it across Turkish society. Authorities have cracked down on LGBT+ events since an attempted coup in 2016 gave them power to ban public gatherings including Pride marches.
The government says it has improved rights and freedoms since it came to power in 2003, but a 2019 report on LGBT+ rights from the advocacy group ILGA Europe ranked Turkey second to last out of 49 countries.
Thousands of Turks took to social media, using the hashtag #NetflixBeAMan to condemn the appearance of LGBT+ characters in Turkish shows, with some calling it an insult to Islam.
“Netflix is trying to normalize immorality under the name of Love 101,” said Omer Farukii in a post on Twitter that received about 13,000 likes.
Another online critic named Osman Cekir called Netflix “Islam’s enemy” and called for it to be banned in Turkey, while some said the airing date was intentionally provoking Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
Others voiced support for Love 101, with one Twitter user called Chlo rejecting people’s use of “religion to legitimize their hate."
Netflix is likely to face calls to reveal more about the sexuality of the show’s characters during an online question and answer session with the cast before it airs.Reuters contributed to this report.