Punitive actions by Turkey against anti-gov’t media at record high: report

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Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has imposed a record number of punitive measures against anti-government TV and radio stations in the two years since a presidential system of governance went into effect, according to a report from an opposition lawmaker.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP and deputy chairperson Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi released a report on punitive measures taken by RTÜK against TV and radio stations between Jan. 1, 2014 and May 4, 2021.

According to the report censorship by RTÜK has reached record levels over the past two years as RTÜK ruled to halt the broadcast of 505 TV programs, 75 percent of all decisions to halt programming since 2014.

The report also showed that RTÜK took 11,220 punitive actions against TV and radio stations between Jan.1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2020. In 72 percent of them, TV and radio stations were hit with fines, more than half of which were administrative fines.

RTÜK imposed 373 administrative fines on TV and radio stations in 2014, reaching 1,239 in 2019 with a record increase of 232 percent.

In her report İlgezdi accused RTÜK of halting the broadcast of TV and radio stations solely to punish anti-government stations, saying that RTÜK had turned into a government weapon of censorship after a presidential system of governance went into effect in Turkey in 2018.

Turkey switched from a parliamentary system to the presidential system of governance following a public referendum in 2017. The new system went into effect following the presidential election of 2018 in which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as the first president under the new system, which granted him vast powers.

İlgezdi described the period beginning after Erdoğan’s election in 2018 as the period of “one-man rule.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement in December 2020 accused RTÜK of contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.

HRW said RTÜK contributed to censorship in a country where the vast majority of television news outlets are already pro-government by imposing five-day broadcasting bans on two TV stations and heavy fines on others.

“The heavy sanctions on broadcasting outlets critical of the government by Turkey’s media watchdog demonstrates how a crucial public institution has become an arm of President Erdoğan’s government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Suspending broadcasts or levying heavy fines against the few remaining television stations that dare to air programs critical of the government violates their right to free speech.”

A majority of the Turkish public relies on television for news coverage. The Turkish government shuttered 60 TV and radio channels by decree during a state of emergency imposed after an abortive putsch in July 2016. The government has also played an active role in the takeover of big media outlets since 2007 by companies that it considers friendly. Under new ownership, the media outlets have tailored their coverage to avoid criticism of the government, and in some cases, acted as the direct mouthpieces for the presidency.

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