New independent Turkish TV channel shuts down after less than a month

New independent Turkish TV channel shuts down after less than a month
Olay TV, owned by businessman and former minister Cavit Caglar, began broadcasting on November 30 but was pulled off the air on Friday. (File/Getty Images)
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Updated 26 December 2020

New independent Turkish TV channel shuts down after less than a month

New independent Turkish TV channel shuts down after less than a month
  • Olay TV is a casualty of deteriorating press freedom in Turkey
  • The station’s executive editor claimed Caglar had bowed to government pressure

ANKARA: An independent TV channel in Turkey that opened 26 days ago shut down abruptly on Friday evening, allegedly under pressure from government circles.

Olay TV, which is owned by Turkish businessman and former right-wing minister Cavit Caglar, stood out in the country’s media landscape by not being pro-government or being owned by companies affiliated with the government. 

Opposition lawmaker and investigative journalist Ahmet Sik said that the presidency had drawn up a list of people who would be fired from the channel. They included female anchor Nevsin Mengu, who went viral several times for being outspoken with her criticism.

The channel was criticised by governmental circles for broadcasting the weekly parliamentary meeting of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in full, something all other channels have been avoiding for years.

Caglar is alleged to have told the channel’s manager that he could not withstand mounting government pressure over Olay TV’s critical editorial line.

Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, said the government’s move against Olay TV had once again demonstrated that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration had little tolerance for critical voices in Turkey’s media sector.

“Despite being established only one month ago, Olay TV has quickly gained status as an independent media organ and gained a huge following thanks to its high-quality staff and bold stance against the government's de facto ban on critical stories,” he told Arab News. “They paid the ultimate price for their independence. In an environment of heightened opposition against the ruling party, pro-government media controls nearly 90 percent of Turkish TV stations and newspapers.”

He added that Olay TV’s closure meant there was only space for a few satellite channels close to the opposition party, like Halk TV, KRT TV and the foreign-owned FOX TV, as Turkish air waves were generally off-limits to the government’s critics.

Turkey’s Association of Contemporary Journalists called the channel’s closure “a day of shame for the media freedom.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said: “Turkey doesn't deserve this darkness.”

The country’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), is imposing sanctions against the few remaining dissident TV and radio channels, including days-long broadcasting bans and levying heavy fines.   

“The closure of Olay TV in less than a month as a result of government pressure is a shame for our democracy!” Ahmet Davutoglu, leader of the breakaway Future Party and former Erdogan ally, tweeted. “Why are you afraid of independent journalists? Do not forget that only those who have dubious jobs, get involved in dirty relationships and deceive people with lies, are afraid of the media.”

Experts said that sanctions on critical media that pushed journalists to avoid “sensitive topics” for coverage directly violated people’s right to free speech and to be informed through media pluralism.

RTUK has been criticized for losing its impartiality and serving as a censorship instrument to intimidate the media. It recently imposed a five-day broadcasting suspension on Halk TV, which is affiliated with the CHP, and Tele 1.

“The government’s strong control and censorship over the media has prevented voters from having access to different viewpoints and allowed the ruling elites to frame and even manipulate the public debate in an attempt to protect themselves from criticism,” Esen added.

RTUK fined Haberturk TV station for airing remarks from an opposition politician criticizing a Qatari investment in Turkish military tank production. The fine was justified on the basis of “preserving the integrity of the state.”

A TV channel risks losing its broadcasting license if it is sanctioned three times for the same provision within a year.

“The media's subordination to pro-government actors was a consequence of the breakdown of Turkish democracy and the transition to a competitive authoritarian regime under the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule,” Esen said. “A lack of independent media organs make the transition to a democratic regime all the more difficult.”

The leader of the breakaway DEVA Party Ali Babacan, who was Erdogan’s former economy tsar, also criticized the Olay TV shutdown.

He was a guest of the channel a day before it closed. Other outlets remain hesitant about inviting leaders of breakaway parties for fear of drawing government ire.

“This is the reflection of how press freedom is restricted in Turkey. Don't be afraid of talking, Turkey,” Babacan tweeted.

No government official has responded to the allegations of censorship.

Does Twitter’s Trump ban expose a dangerous double standard?

Does Twitter’s Trump ban expose a dangerous double standard?
Updated 16 January 2021

Does Twitter’s Trump ban expose a dangerous double standard?

Does Twitter’s Trump ban expose a dangerous double standard?
  • Why did the platform act now, and why does it tolerate so many other preachers of hate?

The decision by Twitter to permanently ban US President Donald Trump caused many people in the Arab world to accuse the platform of double standards.

Why, they wonder, did it take so long for action to be taken against him, and why are so many other public figures known for spreading hate and intolerance allowed to continue to tweet freely.

“Throughout history, God has imposed upon them (the Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption,” said Egyptian preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi in a fatwa.

“The last punishment was that of Hitler … This was a divine punishment for them. Next time, God willing, it will be done at the hands of the faithful believers.”

The Egyptian scholar has a long history of issuing hate-filled and antisemitic fatwas — yet he continues to enjoy the freedom provided by Twitter, which he joined in May 2011, to spread his objectionable views and ideas to more than 3 million followers.

“This decision (by Twitter to ban Trump) raises questions about the double standards with which these (social media) companies deal,” said veteran journalist and media expert Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy, who until 2011 was head of news with Egypt’s national broadcaster. “And also the extent to which the motives of these companies for their decisions are considered honest motives all the time.

“Trump’s approach, which encourages hate, has not changed for years. These companies did not take a stance on the US president at the time, but have now taken a position (when he is about to leave office).

“There are other personalities, some of them from the Middle East, who have been using hate speech for years and none of the major social media companies have taken action against them.”

Twitter suspended Trump’s account on Jan. 8 in the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6. They gave “the risk of further incitement of violence” as the reason for the ban.

“In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter rules would potentially result in this very course of action,” the platform said in a blog post, detailing the reasoning behind its decision.

Late last year Twitter updated its rules relating to hateful conduct, saying that it aims to create a more inclusive environment for users. In a blog entry posted on July 9, 2019 and updated on Dec. 2, 2020, the company said: “Our primary focus is on addressing the risks of offline harm, and research shows that dehumanizing language increases that risk.”

However El-Menawy said this might be a case of “too little, too late” for the social media company to be heralded as a champion for standing up to hate speech. The timing of the Trump ban, he says, “is questionable and raises suspicions about the motives.”

Mohammed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, echoed El-Menawy’s concerns.

“It shows that the companies don’t really know what they are doing when it comes to content moderation,” he said.

“For years many civil-society groups, in the US and around the globe, have been asking the right questions about content moderation but they were mostly ignored, or not given enough attention or acted upon by the tech companies. They have a lot of work to do (on this issue) and they need to listen to civil-society groups.”

Throughout his term as president, Trump has courted controversy with his Twitter activity. Supporters, opponents and journalists worldwide closely monitor his personal account on the platform, more so than the official account of the presidency (@POTUS), for a glimpse into his mind and motives.

As Brian L. Ott and Greg Dickinson, authors of the book “The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage,” wrote in an op-ed published by USA Today: “Historically, Twitter has been reluctant to hold Trump responsible for his speech, likely because he was their most notorious user.” They added: “Simply put, Trump was good for business.”

Trump — who was impeached on Wednesday on charges of “incitement of insurrection,” making him the first US president to be impeached twice — indeed was one of Twitter’s top users. He had nearly 89 million followers, and his posts had been retweeted 389,842,552 times and liked 1,659,180,779 times since he opened his account on March 18, 2009. He was mentioned in 16 million tweets on the day of the Capitol siege, and 17 million on the day after.

While Twitter has special rules that apply to the accounts of world leaders, it insists they are not immune to its enforcement policies. Yet some continue to post comment considered objectionable by many.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, cannot be compared to President Trump in terms of number of followers or reach on Twitter, but his activity on the platform follows a similarly dangerous pattern. Just last week, the Iranian leader posted false claims across his multiple accounts — he has ones in English, Spanish, Farsi, Arabic and Russian — that COVID-19 vaccines developed in US and UK are

“completely untrustworthy,” France has “HIV-tainted blood supplies,” and it is “not unlikely that they (Western countries) would want to contaminate other nations.”

This follows years of similarly dangerous and damaging tweets in which Khamenei incited violence against other nations. In May 2020, for example, he said that Iran will “support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime.”

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has a long history of issuing hate-filled fatwas — yet he continues to enjoy the freedom provided by Twitter, which he joined in May 2011, to spread his objectionable views and ideas to more than 3 million followers. (File/AFP)

Other accounts, such as those of Al-Qaradawi and Qais Al-Khazali — both of whom have featured in the Preachers of Hate series published by Arab News — also remain active. Al-Khazali, from Iraq, was designated as a global terrorist by the US State Department in January last year.

The issue is not unique to accounts originating in the Arab world. In India, for example, social-media platforms, including Facebook, have been criticized for continuing to allow users to spread hate speech.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric from Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, is blamed for contributing to a rise in attacks against the minority Muslim community across the country, for example.

There are many accounts on Twitter and other social-media platforms that have prompted similar concerns. Observers warn that without better controls and moderation of objectionable content, Twitter runs the risk that its image as a promoter of free speech will be damaged and, through inactivity, it will come to be viewed as a promoter of hate speech.

Twitter did not respond to requests from Arab News for comment.