ANKARA: Turkey’s media watchdog has put a five-day ban on broadcasts from two opposition news channels.
The Radio and Television High Council (RTUK), most of whose members are assigned by the government, decided on July 1 to punish Tele1 TV and Halk TV for referring to the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II as a “despicable dictator” as well as for critical remarks about Turkey’s Directorate for Religious Affairs and the government.
Both channels may lose their broadcasting licenses if they are fined again by the RTUK.
The International Press Institute condemned the decision, saying that the RTUK must stop acting as a “government tool” to threaten news outlets and start acting like an “impartial media monitor” that upheld the rights to press freedom and free expression.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday threatened social media sites, warning about possible restrictions to control platforms or shutting them down completely.
Eleven people were recently detained over Twitter insults directed at Erdogan’s daughter and son-in-law.
“These platforms do not suit this nation,” the president said. “The Turkish nation deserves better. Turkey is not a banana republic. Do you understand why we’re against social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix? To get rid of these immoralities. They are immoral.”
The Press Advertisement Institution recently cut public sector adverts from the anti-government Evrensel newspaper for 45 days over a critical story it had published, having concluded that the boundaries of free expression had been exceeded.
Utku Cakirozer, a former journalist and a parliamentarian from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), decried the “massive attack” on press freedom.
“The move meant to take back the right of people to be informed,” he told Arab News, referring to the broadcast ban. “They want to silence the newspapers and TV channels to discourage them: 95 percent of the media landscape is already dominated by pro-government outlets and now they target the remaining five percent. Society becomes free when the journalists are set free.”
Turkey topped the number of legal demands submitted to Twitter last year and came second in court orders against Twitter.
“We have a stark choice to make,” Burak Dalgin, a technology expert and a founding member of the recently founded breakaway party Deva (Remedy), told Arab News. “We want a colorful Turkey, which enjoys universal liberties and a roaring economy. The alternative is an isolated country, which would inevitably be dull, oppressive and poor.”
According to Dalgin, there was already wide-ranging legislation to monitor social media usage in Turkey. He mentioned law number 5651, which was passed over a decade ago, and said that any crime in real life was also crime in cyberspace. “We should fine-tune regulations through deliberation and international cooperation, rather than reacting to things we don’t like personally,” he added.
Last year, 408,494 Twitter sites were banned from being accessed in Turkey, while 130,000 URLs, 7,000 Twitter accounts and 40,000 tweets were blocked.
Max Hoffman, a Turkey analyst from the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said there was very little trust in the media overall.
“In our latest poll, 70 percent of respondents said the media was mostly untrustworthy, and just 30 percent said mostly honest,” he told Arab News. “Even 50 percent of AKP (the ruling party) voters said the media was mostly untrustworthy.”
People knew the government exerted huge influence on the media, he said, with 56 percent saying the government was mostly controlling it and that this influence drove mistrust. The rapid rise of social media and online platforms was also a factor. "TV remains dominant, but young people and opposition voters are flocking to new platforms in the face of widespread censorship.”
According to Hoffman, there was no news source that everyone trusted and opinion was starkly polarized in Turkey.
“That context helps explain some of what is going on now. The government finds it more difficult to tightly control these new outlets, despite very serious efforts to influence social media users and stifle criticism on platforms. So, the AKP know they have a problem in controlling social media and are trying hard to crack down.”
The Center for American Progress’ survey ran a regression analysis of the data and found that those who relied on online platforms or social media for news, as opposed to TV, were significantly more likely to disapprove of Erdogan, even after controlling for a range of other factors.
“So, using social media does contribute to more critical views, and it’s feeding into a wider disillusionment among young voters,” Hoffman said. “Many young voters only know the AKP as the political establishment at a time when people are very angry about the direction of the economy, youth unemployment, and the erosion of democratic principles. And the internet offers ways to connect about this anger and voice it. The government is basically trying to stifle that anger.”
In the last 17 years Turkey’s dissident news channels Halk TV, Tele1, Fox TV and KRT received 28 administrative fines and eight broadcasting suspensions.
Fox TV incurred administrative fines totalling TRY4,421,775 ($643,433) between Jan. 1, 2019 and March 25, 2020.