Turkey steps up attacks on press freedom


Nicosia [Cyprus] (ANI): The Turkish government, under autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been suppressing press freedom in the country and has been exercising almost complete control of the Turkish mass media for many years, but recently it has embarked on an attempt to control what foreign media report about developments in Turkey.

Last week, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), which is Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, has given a 72-hour deadline for the Turkish services of the international news outlets of Voice of America (VOA), German Deutsche Welle (DW), and Euronewsto apply for a license.
The deadline was accompanied by the threat that if they failed to comply and obtain the online broadcasting licenses, they would be banned. The regulator has the right to go to court, at the expiration of the deadline, and close down the websites, which feature also video news.

Bridget Serchak, a Voice of America spokesperson for the US state-owned broadcaster, said: “VOA believes any governmental efforts to silence news outlets is a violation of press freedom, a core value of all democratic societies.”

In another statement, the Voice of America declared that it would do its best to ensure that its audience in Turkey “has free and open access to the Internet if its Turkish service is blocked by the Turkish government.”

So far, the reaction of the other two international media outlets has not been disclosed.

Commenting on the decision, Journalist Ilhan Tasci, of the opposition Republican party, who is also a member of the RTUK, said: “This decision means that for the first time international broadcasters have become the target of the media watchdog on in addition to regional channels. It constitutes in all respects a direct interference with the freedom of the press.”

It should be noted that according to a regulation published in July 2019 “media service providers and internet transmission platform operators that wish to provide radio or audiovisual services on the internet are required to obtain a license or authorization from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTSC) according to the type of service they provide.

Since the new regulation went into effect, various streaming platforms including Netflix and Amazon Prime have applied for and received licenses. However, this is the first time that the RTUK used this authority for the three international news websites.

Erdogan has used RTUK as a tool of increasing censorship as the broadcasting watchdog frequently imposes punitive sanctions on independent television and radio stations and websites which are critical of the Turkish government.

Indicative of the repression of any criticism of Erdogan in the media is the arrest last month of Sedef Kabas, a well-known journalist for citing a proverb during a political discussion on opposition TV channel Tele 1 and repeated on Twitter, which was seen as a swipe at Turkey’s President.

The prosecutor also asked Kabas to be charged with insulting Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Transportation Minister Adil Karaismailoglu, for a combined jail term of 11 years.

As a Human Rights Watch report published in October 2020 points out: “Turkey’s press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment…Social media platforms, as well as online news sites, are among the last bastions for critical journalism in Turkey following the state-led takeover of mainstream media.”

In October 2020, a Turkish court decision declared one of the most prominent journalists in Turkey, Can Dundar, former editor of Cumhuriyet, a fugitive and confiscated his assets. Dundar was arrested in November 2015 after his newspaper published footage showing the State Intelligence MIT sending weapons to Syrian Islamist fighters. Since June 2016, he is living in exile in Germany.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council has imposed arbitrary fines and temporary suspensions of broadcasting of several media outlets such as Halk TV, Tele 1 TV, and Fox TV, which include content critical of the government.

In February 2018, a Turkish court sentenced journalists Mehmet Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan and Nazli Illicak to life imprisonment after finding them guilty of “involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.”

Women journalists in Turkey are in a particularly vulnerable position. The Coalition For Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) in its report titled: “Press Freedom Status for Women Journalists” says: “Turkey is one of the most dangerous countries with cases of legal harassment and intimidation by the state.”

The report sheds light on a total of 77 cases of violations against women journalists worldwide, in which Turkey leads as the country with the most frequent cases of legal harassment. 36 of the 77 cases in total that include murders, abduction, detentions, and physical assaults were reported in Turkey, followed by Pakistan with nine cases.

Scores of journalists remain behind bars in Turkey or are continuously harassed and face a trial because they criticize, even mildly, the Government or President Erdogan’s one-man rule.

Many journalists and people working in the media are in pretrial detention or serving sentences for terrorism offences because of their journalistic work.

The state is using the judiciary over which it has increased control to send to jail its critics on bogus charges, without compelling evidence of criminal activity. It also misuses the regulatory bodies, like the RTUK and the Press Advertising Authority (BIK), to punish and financially cripple independent media.

One can easily see the repression of freedom of thought in Turkey from the fact that in 2021, just like the previous year, Turkey ranked first among the 47 Council of Europe (CoE) member states in the number of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights concerning violations of freedom of expression. (ANI)

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