Turkey’s last two critical TV channels hounded

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the heavy fines and programme suspensions imposed on two Turkish TV channels, Halk TV and Turkey’s Fox TV, which follow orchestrated attacks on them in the pro-government media. This act of censorship aims to crush the remaining vestiges of independence in Turkey’s broadcast media, RSF said.

The High Council for Broadcasting (RTÜK) imposed the draconian sanctions on the two TV channels on 26 December after they broadcast criticism of the government. Fox TV, a US-Turkish joint venture, was fined 1 million Turkish lira (165,000 euros) and its main news programme was suspended for three days.

Halk TV, a secularist channel, was fined 80,000 Turkish lira (13,000 euros) and its talk show “Halk Arenası” was suspended for five days. In the event of further complaints, RTÜK could strip the two TV channels of their broadcast licences.

Halk TV was punished for the “Halk Arenası” show on 21 December, in which two guests, the well-known actors Metin Akpınar and Müjdat Gezen, warned about polarization and the danger of a coup triggered by the government’s “fascist” tendencies and rapprochement with Russia. The journalist Yılmaz Özdil said Turkey would be a better place if the president “drank just a single beer.”

Turkey’s Fox TV was punished for its main news programme on 10 December in which anchor Fatih Portakal, commenting on the Yellow Vest protests in France, lamented that the right to protest was not guaranteed in Turkey.

Imposed with unusual speed, RTÜK’s sanctions capped a campaign of attacks that was orchestrated at the highest level, with President Erdoğan repeatedly lashing out at those responsible for the critical comments, warning that they would “pay the price” and going so far as to tell Portakal: “If you don’t know your place, this nation will strike you in the neck.”

Many judicial complaints were filed against both Fox TV and Halk TV while a virulent campaign was unleashed against them in the pro-government media. Government supporters demonstrated outside Fox TV headquarters on 26 December, chanting Erdoğan’s name, and Portakal reported that death threats were made against him.

“We condemn these disproportionate sanctions, which are an act of censorship designed to rein in the country’s last critical TV channels,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This pressure is all the more disturbing because it endorses what was an unacceptable hate campaign. We urge the Turkish authorities to stop playing this dangerous game and to respect freedom of expression.”

Fox TV is the last of Turkey’s ten most-watched TV channels not to be owned by a government ally. The politicization of RTÜK, whose members are appointed by parliament, has become steadily more marked in recent years.

The already worrying situation of Turkey’s media has become critical since an abortive coup in July 2016. Many media outlets have been closed summarily, without any effective form of recourse, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison. It is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.