Press freedom organization slams Turkish media watchdog over latest fines against critical media

The International Press Institute (IPI) has slammed Turkey's broadcasting watchdog RTÜK over its latest fines against television channels with critical stances towards the government. “These latest fines confirm that RTÜK has become a means to stifle media content critical not only of the government or president but also of any political allies,” the IPI said on Feb. 11.

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The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, on Feb. 11 condemned the latest fines issued by Turkey's broadcasting watchdog RTÜK against a number of television stations over content critical of the government. 

“These latest fines confirm that RTÜK has become a means to stifle media content critical not only of the government or president but also of any political allies, prosecutors, and governors”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavaş said.

“RTÜK’s fines targeting certain broadcasters that continue to air critical coverage are part of a clear pattern to punish free media.”

RTÜK issued fresh fines against Halk TV, Habertürk, Tele 1, KRT and Fox TV over the contents of their news or the comments made during the programs they aired.

Halk TV was issued fine over program host Özlem Gürses’ coverage of a satirical news story regarding  Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chair Devlet Bahçeli, a staunch ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after she mistook the satirical news as a real incident.

RTÜK also imposed a fine on Halk TV in relation to comments made in the program called “Kayda Geçsin” (On the Record), which criticized the disproportionate use of police force against Boğaziçi University protesters. The commentary was cited as denigrating and insulting the police forces.

Habertürk was fined over the words of “Governors are militants, district governors are militants, judges are militants” uttered by former main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Berhan Şimşek during a program called “Enine Boyuna” (Tip to Toe).

RTÜK also fined Tele 1 over comments made by Rıfat Serdaroğlu, leader of the True Party (“Doğru Parti”), concerning Erdoğan in the program “Anında Manşet” (Headline Now).

RTÜK said that Serdaroğlu’s statements of calling Erdoğan a “dictator” were “beyond the limits of criticism” and that the moderator did not intervene in any way.

KRT was fined for “defamatory and libelous expressions” concerning news anchor Zafer Arapkirli’s comments on whether the police forces were acting as the "militants" of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during their intervention against Boğaziçi University protests.

FOX TV, one of Turkey’s largest remaining critical broadcasters, was fined over a prime-time news segment reporting the lack of agricultural support by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to dairy farmers. RTÜK imposed the fine on the broadcaster saying that FOX's coverage did not “express the truth.”

RTÜK has been heavily criticized recently for increasingly issuing fines against critical TV stations and media outlets and thereby becoming a convenient means to punish critical media.

According to a December 2020 report by İlhan Taşçı, a member of RTÜK for the CHP, critical channels Halk TV, Tele 1, FOX TV, Habertürk and KRT were subject to a total of 46 administrative fines and eight broadcasting suspensions in 2020. In total, the channels were fined around 10 million Turkish liras (approximately $1.42 million).

RTÜK's members are appointed by the political parties in proportion to their number of seats in parliament.

Currently, the AKP has four RTÜK members while its coalition ally MHP has two. The CHP also has two seats, while the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has one.

This gives the AKP-MHP coalition a seven-to-three majority in RTÜK.