Turkey’s RTÜK imposes fines on 4 opposition TV stations for election coverage

Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has imposed new fines on four TV stations for violating broadcasting guidelines during their coverage of the country’s recent elections, Turkish Minute reported, citing a RTÜK member.

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.

Following the elections, RTÜK launched an investigation into seven opposition TV stations due to their airing of speeches that “demeaned the public” and included insults and attacks “in an attempt to belittle” them in their broadcasts during the elections.

RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Wednesday announced in a series of tweets that the council had imposed administrative fines on Fox TV, TELE1, Halk TV and Flash Haber due to their coverage of the elections.

“After the election, RTÜK swiftly embarked on an obstruction of press freedom and the public’s right to access information. However, this cloud of uncertainty will eventually dissipate, and freedoms will attain the value they deserve while the public regains the ability to hear the truth,” Taşçı said.

Taşçı added that he and Tuncay Keser, another RTÜK member from the CHP, voted against Wednesday’s decision.

According to Taşçı, the council decided to punish Fox TV due to its broadcast 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 the broadcast.

Taşçı further said that the fine imposed on Halk TV was a result of a program in which Ümit Özdağ, the leader of the far-right and anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), expressed criticism of the runoff election results, stating that he has legal but not political respect for them.

Turkish authorities have in the last few years cracked down on TV stations, websites, social media accounts and posts covering news stories critical of President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), leading 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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