Turkey’s media watchdog investigates 7 opposition TV stations for election coverage

Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has launched an investigation into seven opposition TV stations for violating broadcasting guidelines during their coverage of the country’s recent elections, Turkish Minute reported, citing the council announcement.

Turkey held parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14. Since neither President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nor opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was able to exceed the 50 percent threshold in the first round of the presidential race, a runoff was held on May 28, resulting in the victory of Erdoğan.

RTÜK said in a written announcement on Twitter on Tuesday that it is investigating opposition TV stations Fox TV, TELE1, Halk TV, KRT, TV 5, Flash Haber and Szc TV due to their airing speeches that “demeaned the public” and included insults and attacks “in an attempt to belittle” them in their broadcasts during the election.

The council said it is also reviewing the entire broadcast on Fox TV on the evening of the recent runoff during which journalist Çiğdem Toker said democracy wasn’t just about elections.

“Actually, the current administration does not meet the standards of [a country adhering to] the rule of law. … Democracy is not just about elections. We should support the expression of voters and citizens in other areas of politics as well. … We should not criminalize democratic protests or the freedom to seek justice,” Toker said during Sunday’s broadcast.

“After the completion of the report, the file will be discussed at the council’s next meeting to reach a decision,” RTÜK said in the announcement.

Commenting on the council’s announcement, RTÜK Chairman Ebubekir Şahin said they won’t ignore “people who don’t respect the national will, democracy and election results and who demean our people.”

RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticized Şahin for revealing what his vote is going to be before the meeting, saying that it’s an encroachment on the authority of RTÜK.

Meanwhile, detention warrants were issued for five social media users as part of an investigation launched by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on accusations that they “created perception aimed at disrupting the public order” through the posts they shared before and during the election, according to a report by the Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Tuesday.

Individuals identified as the owners of Twitter accounts named Militerdoktrin and Darkwebhaber were briefly detained and then released under judicial probation.

Turkish authorities have in the last few years cracked down on websites, social media accounts and posts covering news stories critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but this has led to accusations that freedom of expression has been curtailed.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, closing down media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially after President Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016.

RTÜK is accused of contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 165th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.

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