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Turkey’s RTÜK fines 2 more TV stations over criticism of gov’t’s earthquake response

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Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has imposed fines and a broadcasting ban on two more TV stations for their coverage of criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and its agencies’ response to two powerful earthquakes last month, a RTÜK member has announced.

Eleven provinces in the country’s south and southeast were hit by two powerful earthquakes, registering magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.5, on Feb. 6, which were followed by numerous aftershocks, leading to the death of more than 46,000 people in Turkey and wreaking widespread devastation in the region.

RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Wednesday said in a series of tweets that the council fined Habertürk TV and Flash Haber by a majority of votes, also imposing a broadcasting ban on Flash Haber.

The ban imposed on Flash Haber was due to theologian Cemil Kılıç’s criticism that government officials refuse to accept responsibility for damage caused by the earthquakes, saying instead it was just fate.

In a speech two days after the powerful earthquakes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan linked the deaths of tens of thousands in southern Turkey to “destiny’s plan,” a phrase often used by the president in the wake of disasters that his government is accused of failing to take precautions for in advance.

“These things happen as part of destiny’s plan,” the president is heard saying to a victim during his visit to Kahramanmaraş, a Turkish city near the quakes’ epicenter.

According to Taşçı, the fine imposed on Habertürk was because of journalist Fatih Altaylı’s statement that RTÜK refused to give them permission to stage an aid campaign on television to collect donations for earthquake survivors in the wake of the disaster.

“Explaining the lack of coordination in the earthquake [relief efforts] and criticizing the government [for it] was considered a crime,” Taşçı said.

In late February the council also imposed TL 7,990,000 ($423,000) in fines on Tele 1, Halk TV and Fox TV in addition to a five-day broadcasting ban on Tele 1 and Halk TV for their coverage in the aftermath of the earthquakes, which included criticism that the AKP government was too slow to respond to the tragedy.

Following the earthquakes, 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.

Social media users also complained about the lack of basic necessities, such as water, blankets and tents as well as medical supplies.

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 RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

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