Press freedom groups concerned about Turkish gov't attempts to 'demonize' free media

Twenty-three press freedom organizations on July 23 condemned Ankara's plan to introduce new legal steps against foreign funding of local media outlets. They said that the vowed measures "are a clear move to demonize the free media and will further increase the pressure on the few remaining independent outlets." Meanwhile, Turkey's media watchdog RTÜK targeted media outlets receiving foreign funds, by saying they might "cause potential national security problems."

A protestor holds a banner reading 'Freedom of the press is the insurance of democracy' in front of Istanbul's Çağlayan courthouse in this file photo.

Duvar English 

Twenty-three international and local press freedom organizations on July 23 published a joint statement expressing their concern over the Turkish government's plan to introduce new regulations targeting independent media. 

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and undersigned partner organizations condemned recent statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government officials pertaining to the introduction of new regulation of so-called fake news and “foreign-funded” news in Turkey. 

"Officials’ targeting several critical and independent media outlets for securing funds abroad is a clear move to stifle further the free media in Turkey by controlling content. We call on the Turkish legislators to ensure that any new measures are fully in line with Turkey’s obligations under domestic and international law that protect free speech and media pluralism," the organizations said in their statement. 

The press freedom groups further noted that foreign project funding has become an important source of income for many independent outlets in Turkey, since newspapers critical of the government are completely starved of revenues.

"We are concerned that measures to restrict foreign funding or to paint its recipients as foreign propagandists, are a clear move to demonize the free media and will further increase the pressure on the few remaining independent outlets," they said.

On July 21, Erdoğan was asked whether there is a law that envisages serious criminal sanctions for disseminating "fake news on media and social media." In response, Erdoğan said that a study will be carried out in parliament in October, after the summer recess, in an attempt to build on the current social media law that was passed last year.

On the same day, Presidential Communication Director Fahrettin Altun said that the government is preparing to take steps to “regulate” the foreign funding of media organizations, in an attempt what he said “to protect the public order and the right of people to receive true news.”

'Foreign-funded media outlets might cause national security problems'

Meanwhile, Turkey's media watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) released a statement on July 23, saying that the foreign funding of media may "cause potential national security problems."

"On the grounds that media operating in Turkey with the funds of foreign institutions and organizations might cause potential national security problems, we are addressing all regulation and inspection activities meticulously," the media watchdog said in a written statement

The RTÜK further said that those who "are in an attempt to design Turkey from abroad" are using the media as a tool for their purposes.

"Codes of Turkey animosity are being produced under the guise of freedom of press' name and image, and negative propaganda is being pumped into society through perception operations," the statement further said.