Turkish far-right party drafts bill to keep media outlets with foreign funding in check

Journalist work during a protest despite COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)

Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has introduced a bill designed to restrict the functioning of media outlets and reporters receiving direct or indirect funding from abroad, Turkish Minute reported on Wednesday, citing the Gerçek Gündem news website.

The bill makes it compulsory for media institutions and reporters receiving direct or indirect funds from abroad and earning income based on such funds to register a “foreign center representative” with the Interior Ministry.

According to the bill, the representative will submit all documents required by the ministry, and all activities of media outlets and reporters will be recorded and monitored.

All written or digital records of media outlets must be kept ready for inspection by the ministry, the bill says.

Media outlets and reporters will have to provide details about activities conducted using the foreign funds, according to the bill.

The bill also stipulates penalties for failure to comply with its provisions, and media outlets or reporters receiving foreign funds may be sentenced to between two and five years in prison or fined from TL 100,000 ($11,210) to TL 1 million ($112,100) if they fail to register their foreign center representative with the Interior Ministry.

Failure to share information with the ministry can result in a prison sentence of one to three years.

The bill will be debated by a parliamentary committee before submission to the General Assembly for a vote.

Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun had hinted in July that a new regulation would be enacted for media outlets that receive financial support from overseas.

“The government is closely following claims that a foundation headquartered in the United States is funding some media outlets in Turkey,” Altun told the state-run Anadolu news agency. “Obviously there is need for a regulation for the media organizations operating in our country with funds provided by foreign governments or organizations.”

Altun was referring to the US-headquartered Chrest Foundation, which, based on publicly available information, provided funds to Medyascope, Serbestiyet, 140 Journos and the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24).

Medyascope has received the most funding with $476,720 to date, followed by P24 with $124,015. The outlets publicly declare their sponsors, including the Chrest Foundation, on their websites.

Independent news outlets have increased in popularity in Turkey since the government muzzled the press by imprisoning journalists, shutting down media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure.

The popularity of the Turkish versions of news outlets owned by foreign governments, such as Deutsche Welle, BBC and Voice of America, has also grown.

Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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