By Mert Ozkan and Daren Butler
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's broadcasting watchdog said on Thursday it will order Netflix to block access locally to the soon-to-be-released French film "Cuties" on grounds that it contains images of child exploitation.
The ruling came ahead of the film's Sept. 9 international release on the U.S. online streaming service, and followed recent media reports of Turkish government interference in a separate planned Netflix series featuring a gay character.
The plot of "Cuties" centres on an 11-year-old Muslim girl who "starts to rebel against her conservative family's traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew," according to Netflix.
After a board meeting, the Radio and Television High Council (RTUK) said: "It was decided unanimously that the broadcaster must remove the relevant programme from its catalogue."
A board report judged that such a film, "containing exploitation and abuse, might lead to potential child exploitation behaviour patterns emerging," RTUK said of its first case related to a video-on-demand platform.
Netflix, the world's biggest streaming service with more than 1.5 million subscribers in Turkey, could not be immediately reached for comment on the decision.
Turkey's Family Ministry last month requested that the board evaluate the film over concerns about its impact, noting it appeared like a children's movie, but had an 18+ rating.
"Cuties" was previously criticised internationally over its promotional poster for allegedly sexualising 11-year-old girls. Netflix then apologised for what it called "inappropriate artwork," saying it was not representative of the film.
President Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party, which has Islamist roots, along with its nationalist allies has a majority of members in RTUK.
If Netflix goes ahead with screening the film, its licence could be temporarily suspended, Turkish media reports have said.
In July, separate media reports said a dispute had arisen between Netflix and Ankara over a gay character in a planned series.
A source familiar with the situation said at the time Netflix decided to cancel the show after authorities denied its filming permit application because of the character, and it was not able to shoot the show with its original script.
Erdogan said in July that Turkey would introduce regulations to control social media platforms or shut them down, pressing ahead with government plans after he said his family was insulted online. He referred to Netflix in those comments.
(Reporting by Mert Ozkan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Alexandra Hudson)