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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Turkey to Investigate Media Outlets Over Election Coverage

By Liam Scott May 30, 2023

Turkey's broadcasting watchdog on Tuesday announced it is investigating six opposition TV channels for "insulting the public" through coverage of Sunday's presidential election runoff.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council, or RTUK, said viewers had complained about election coverage, but did not provide specific examples.

One of the channels under investigation —Tele 1— said on its website that the action shows the "government's censorship device is at work."

The inquiry comes two days after President Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the second round of the presidential election on Sunday.

Assaults on press freedom bookended this election. Ahead of the vote, several journalists were arrested, detained, sentenced to jail time and assaulted — often over coverage about the election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Freedom of expression both online and offline has sharply declined in Turkey over the past decade, according to Cathryn Grothe, a research analyst at Freedom House.

"President Erdogan and the AKP have increasingly exerted control over the media environment by censoring independent news outlets and silencing those who criticize the government or its policies," Grothe told VOA.

"The RTUK's recent investigation into six opposition television channels on politically motivated charges of 'insulting the public' is just another example of how Turkish authorities will go to extensive lengths to control the narrative and silence the opposition," Grothe said.

The investigation was also of little surprise to Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF.

"We now know that the ultimate goal of those who say, 'death to criticism' is to completely silence those who make different voices arbitrarily," Onderoglu said.

Turkey's Washington embassy did not immediately reply to VOA's email requesting comment.

The media outlets under RTUK investigation are Halk TV, Tele 1, KRT TV, TV 5, Flash Haber TV and Szc TV.

In April, RTUK fined three of those channels over coverage, including for reports that were critical of earthquake rescue efforts or that included opposition voices criticizing the AKP policy.

In 2022, RTUK issued 54 penalties to five independent broadcasters, compared to just four against pro-government channels, according to the free expression group Article 19.

"RTUK has long been an apparatus of [authorities]," said Faruk Eren, the head of the press union of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.

"More difficult days await journalists," he told VOA.

RTUK has previously dismissed criticism of how it operates, saying it acts in accordance with Turkish law and "stands up for pluralism, press freedom and free news."

Media and rights analysts have raised concerns over what another Erdogan term will mean for civil society after a presidency marked by a crackdown on media, internet censorship and hostility to minority groups, the Associated Press reported.

Overall, Turkey ranks poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, coming in at 165 out of 180 countries, where 1 denotes the best environment for media, says RSF.

"One part of me thinks that it's par for the course. We've become accustomed to this," said Sinan Ciddi, a fellow on Turkey at the Washington think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. But, Ciddi told VOA, there are concerns that Erdogan will use his new term to crack down even harder on press freedom.

"I'm of the opinion he basically lets things continue as they are," Ciddi said, "simply because that's his way of demonstrating to the world, 'Hey, look, we have press freedom. There are channels and outlets which hate me.'"

The timing of the inquiry just two days after the election is concerning said Suay Boulougouris, who researches Turkish digital rights at the free expression group Article 19.

No one was under the impression that another Erdogan term would bring about advancements to human rights and press freedom in Turkey, Boulougouris said, but this inquiry sets the tone for the next five years in a distressing way.

"It's known that RTUK is weaponized to challenge or suppress these TV channels," Boulougouris told VOA. "Launching this inquiry so quickly, right after the elections, to me indicates that chances are really low for political change and democratic reforms in Turkey."

To Ciddi, critical voices "will want to keep the fight going."

"Going forward, we can expect a rallying cry for media and independence," he said.

Hilmi Hacaloglu contributed to this report.



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