Turkey Cracks Down on TV Channels Ahead of Elections

Heavy fines imposed on four TV stations for their critical coverage of the government have been condemned as ‘absurd’ – and as a deliberate attempt to intimidate them in the run-up to general and presidential elections.

Four Turkish TV stations have been sanctioned and fined for their critical coverage ahead of highly important May 14 parliamentary and presidential elections, Ilhan Tasci, a board member from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, at the Radio and Television Supreme Council, RTUK, announced on Tuesday.

“The RTUK made it clear in today’s meeting that it aims to bring critical broadcasters in line before the election,” Tasci wrote on Twitter.

The state agency that monitors and sanctions radio and television broadcasts sanctioned Halk TV for praising a convicted criminal, when jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas’ most recent book was discussed.

Halk TV has had 5 per cent of its monthly advertisement income and its programmes stopped five times.

Show TV received the same fine for alleged physical violence against a woman in a soap opera, but Tasci said that the real reason was a political comedy show that satirized the government’s poor handling of the February earthquakes.

Fox TV was fined 3 per cent of its monthly advertisement income for the remarks of commentators about a ruling party mayor’s handling of foreign funds after the flood disaster of the last week.

The same fine was applied to Tele 1 TV channel after a journalist criticized Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, over the ban on women’s day rallies on March 8.

Halk TV was also fined another 3 per cent of its monthly advertisement income due to a TV programme in which an opposition politician criticized the handling of the earthquake disaster.

Experts said such fines are unacceptable as the country heads towards elections.

“Turkey’s partisan media regulator issues heavy fines against critical TV networks, primarily focusing on post-earthquake broadcasts, punishing critical speech on screens. Such absurd fines, especially when considered within the election timeline, are a major threat to society’s right to access information and an assault on media freedom,” Gurkan Ozturan, Coordinator of Media Freedom Rapid Response at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, told BIRN.

The RTUK previously fined three TV stations in February for their coverage of the government’s quake response, in what unions and watchdogs called another blow to media freedom.

Ozturan said: “The target of these fines and broadcast bans is obvious – critical speech that was aired in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes ahead of the elections. Such pressure and punishment of journalism and independent media are unacceptable.”

The opposition, experts and international rights groups have accused the RTUK of going all out to crush the remaining independent media in Turkey and of acting as a tool of the authoritarian government of President Erdogan.

Turkey ranked in 153rd place out of 180 countries in 2022 in the latest press freedom index of watchdog organisation Reporters Without Borders, RSF, which classifies the Turkish government’s control over media outlets as high.