RSF calls on Turkish authorities to end censorship of earthquake coverage

Displaced residents look on as they stand near a tent in a camp at Masal Park, in Gaziantep, on February 10, 2023, four days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria. Zein Al RIFAI / AFP

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Turkish authorities to put an end to all obstacles to press freedom and to respect the investigative work of journalists in the aftermath of powerful earthquakes that struck the country in early February .

Journalists reporting on the shortcomings of the government’s earthquake response are facing immense pressure. In addition, Turkey’s media watchdog is penalizing TV stations due to their coverage.

“While the country needs transparency more than ever, decisions to block access to [earthquake] reports reveal the [government’s] aim to prevent any dissemination of information questioning post-earthquake government management,” RSF Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu said.

Most recently, journalist Fırat Bulut, from the Yeşil Gazete news website, was briefly detained in Ankara last week over his coverage of the earthquakes. He was detained as part of an investigation into him for “publicly disseminating misleading information to the public,” Bulut tweeted.

Brothers Ali and İbrahim İmat, both local journalists, were earlier arrested pending trial in Osmaniye, one of the provinces affected by the quakes due to social media posts questioning the authorities over tents allegedly withheld from quake victims in the province.

In addition, Gökhan Özbek, publisher of the independent news website and online broadcasting platform 23 Derece, was briefly detained last week due to his work.

In late February Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) imposed TL 7,990,000 ($423,000) in fines on Tele 1, Halk TV and Fox TV in addition to a five-day broadcasting ban on Tele 1 and Halk TV for their coverage in the aftermath of the earthquakes, which included criticism that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was too slow to respond to the tragedy.

The council on Wednesday also imposed fines and a broadcasting ban on two more TV stations, Habertürk TV and Flash Haber, for their coverage of criticism about the response.

Following the earthquakes, the Turkish government was accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves.

Social media users also complained about the lack of basic necessities, such as water, blankets and tents as well as medical supplies.

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