İlhan Taşcı, a member of Turkey’s broadcast regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), announced on Twitter today that RTÜK has ruled to suspend the broadcasts of pro-opposition television stations TELE1 and Halk TV for five days.
Taşçı, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), wrote that the two outlets will lose their broadcast licenses entirely if they receive another penalty in the future.
The council’s membership is reflective of the Turkish parliament, with the ruling party having the largest number of members. Currently, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has four RTÜK members, while its coalition ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the main opposition CHP have two members each. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has one.
On June 26 RTÜK President Ebubekir Şahin announced that an investigation had been launched into TELE 1 TV due to critical comments by station owner and program host Merdan Yanardağ about Ottoman Emperor Abdülhamit in his program “18 Dakika” (18 Minutes).
According to the Evrensel daily, Halk TV was sanctioned due to critical journalist Hüsnü Mahalli’s comments on a news program.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI) both issued statements against RTÜK’s decision.
“The Radio and Television Supreme Council should not function as a censorship tool for the government, and Turkey should learn to tolerate the existence of whatever critical voices are left in the broadcast media,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “Halk TV and TELE1 are two remaining pro-opposition broadcast outlets in a media landscape that has become predominantly pro-government. Their presence is vital for media plurality in Turkey.”
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen strongly criticized RTÜK’s decision. “In light of RTÜK’s pattern of singling out critical media for punishment, this looks to be a deliberate effort by RTÜK to take these broadcasters off the airwaves,” Griffen said. “RTÜK must stop acting as a government tool to threaten news outlets critical of the government, and start acting like an impartial media monitor that upholds the rights to press freedom and free expression.”
RTÜK has been harshly criticized for its broadcast suspensions and fines imposed on pro-opposition TV stations. According to a factsheet posted on Twitter by the CHP-nominated RTÜK member Taşcı, from January 1, 2019, to May 15, 2020 only three penalties were imposed on pro-government stations as opposed to 36 sanctions on pro-opposition stations. Of those three sanctions, two were a warning and the other was a fine. Pro-opposition stations, on the other hand, were hit with 28 fines and eight broadcast suspensions.
The figures are especially striking given the disparity between the number of outlets that are considered pro-government and those that are considered pro-opposition.