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Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog imposes fines on 3 TV stations due to earthquake coverage

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Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has imposed fines and broadcasting bans on three TV stations for their coverage in the aftermath of two powerful earthquakes earlier this month, according to a RTÜK member.

The council, which convened on Wednesday, imposed fines on Tele 1, Halk TV and Fox TV in addition to a five-day broadcasting ban on Tele 1 and Halk TV.

RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı announced the council’s decisions on Twitter.

The fine and ban were imposed on Tele 1 due to a program hosted by the station’s editor-in-chief Merdan Yanardağ during which a so-called construction amnesty was criticized and cited as one of the reasons for the vast devastation caused by the earthquakes, registering a magnitude 7.8. and 7.5, which claimed the lives of more than 42,00 people across 11 provinces.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) pushed ahead with legislation on a construction amnesty, under which previously illegal buildings were approved without requiring that they comply with an updated building code, before the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2018 in a move apparently intended to woo voters.

A total of 438,000 property owners benefited from the legislation and had their buildings approved by paying a fine without the need to conform to the building code, with the government putting the responsibility for the earthquake worthiness of the structures on the property owners.

A video showing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bragging about the legislation went viral following the earthquake.

According to RTÜK, there was an attempt to provoke hatred and enmity among the public during the program.

Halk TV was given the fine and broadcasting ban due to the remarks of Ahmet Şık, a former journalist and a lawmaker from the Workers’ Party of Turkey who spoke to the station from the earthquake zone and criticized the government due to its slow response to the tragedy.

Fox TV was also fined for its critical reporting about the post-earthquake period.

RTÜK members from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), voted in favor of the broadcasting bans and fines on the three TV stations.

Following the earthquakes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP government were accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves and finding them frozen to death although they sustained no critical injuries in the collapse.

Taşçı said RTÜK’s action against the TV stations, which tried to make the voices of the thousands of earthquake victims heard and show the scale of the tragedy, is not only a crime but a betrayal on the profession of journalism.

“Their only concern is not to lose power in the elections,” said Taşçı.

Turkey is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections this year.

RTÜK is accused 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.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

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