The government-run Press Advertisment Agency (BİK) has imposed a 35-day ban on sending ads to the daily Cumhuriyet for reporting on an illegal construction facilitated by Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun on a patch of land that he rented in the Kuzguncuk neighborhood on Istanbul’s Anatolian side.
The BİK, which pays newspapers to run official ads and announcements, is an important source of revenue for Turkish newspapers, particularly opposition papers that have been targeted by the government and struggle to survive financially.
In recent years, the institution has been instrumentalized against a number of opposition dailies to exert pressure on their critical coverage.
Following Cumhuriyet‘s report, which was published in April with the title “There is illegal activity on the Bosphorus,” a crew from the Istanbul Greater City Municipality (İBB) came and demolished the gazebo, pathways and fireplace built on the land, which was reportedly rented by Altun for the very a paltry 258 TL a month.
A court subsequently blocked Cumhuriyet‘s online access to the report on the grounds that it was attempting to “undermine Turkey’s success in its struggle against the coronavirus while European countries remain unsuccessful in their struggle.” Within Turkey, the article is currently inaccessible without using a VPN.
Meanwhile, the BİK determined that Cumhuriyet had “exceeded the boundaries of press freedom and freedom of speech” in their decision to punish the paper and exempt it from paid ads for the next 35 days.
State prosecutors have opened investigations in April against Cumhuriyet journalists Hazal Ocak, Vedat Arık, Olcay Büyüktaş Akça, and İpek Özbey for their role in the paper’s report.