Turkey steps up attacks on press freedom

By John Solomou |
February 14, 2022 8:04 a.m. STI

Nicosia [Cyprus]Feb. 14 (ANI): The Turkish government, led by autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has suppressed press freedom in the country and exercised near-total control over Turkish media for many years, but recently launched in an attempt to control what foreign media report on developments in Turkey.
Last week, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), which is Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, gave Turkish international media services Voice of America (VOA) a 72-hour deadline. German Deutsche Welle (DW), and Euronews to apply for a license.
The delay was accompanied by the threat that if they did not comply and obtain the online broadcast licenses, they would be banned. The regulator has the right to go to court, when the deadline expires, and shut down the websites, which also offer video information.
Bridget Serchak, Voice of America spokesperson for the US public broadcaster, said: “VOA believes that any government effort to silence the media is a violation of press freedom, a value fundamental to all democratic societies. “
In a separate statement, the Voice of America said it would do its best to ensure its audience in Turkey “has free and open access to the internet if its Turkish service is blocked by the Turkish government.”
So far, the reaction of the other two international media has not been disclosed.
Commenting on the decision, journalist Ilhan Tasci from the opposition Republican Party, who is also a member of RTUK, said: “This decision means that for the first time international broadcasters have become the target of the media watchdog in addition regional media. It constitutes in every respect a direct interference with the freedom of the press.”
It should be noted that according to a regulation published in July 2019 “media service providers and Internet transmission platform operators wishing to provide radio or audiovisual services on the Internet are required to obtain a license or authorization from the High Council Radio and Television (RTSC) depending on the type of service they provide.
Since the new regulations came into effect, various streaming platforms, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, have applied for and obtained licenses. However, this is the first time that RTUK has used this authority for the three international news sites.
Erdogan has used RTUK as a tool to tighten censorship, as the broadcasting watchdog frequently imposes punitive sanctions on independent TV and radio stations and websites that are critical of the Turkish government.
The arrest last month of Sedef Kabas, a journalist well known for quoting a proverb during a political debate on the opposition television channel Tele 1 and repeated on Twitter, which was seen as a swipe at the president of Turkey.
The prosecutor also asked Kabas to be charged with insulting Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu, for a combined prison term of 11 years.
As a Human Rights Watch report published in October 2020 points out: “Turkey’s press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of the media, lack of independence of regulatory institutions and a new social media law designed to clamp down on remaining spaces for free comment… Social media platforms, along with online news sites, are among the last bastions of critical journalism in Turkey after the state takeover of mainstream media.
In October 2020, a Turkish court ruling declared one of Turkey’s most prominent journalists, Can Dundar, former editor of Cumhuriyet, at large and confiscated his assets. Dundar was arrested in November 2015 after his newspaper published footage showing state intelligence MIT sending weapons to Syrian Islamist fighters. Since June 2016, he has been living in exile in Germany.
The Supreme Radio and Television Council has imposed arbitrary fines and temporary broadcast suspensions on several outlets such as Halk TV, Tele 1 TV and Fox TV, which include content critical of the government.
In February 2018, a Turkish court sentenced journalists Mehmet Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan and Nazli Illicak to life imprisonment after convicting them of “involvement in the 2016 coup attempt”.
Women journalists in Turkey are in a particularly vulnerable position. The Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) in its report titled: “Status of Press Freedom for Women Journalists” states: “Turkey is one of the most dangerous countries with cases of legal harassment and intimidation by the state.
The report highlights a total of 77 cases of violations against women journalists worldwide, with Turkey being the country with the most frequent cases of judicial harassment. 36 of the total 77 cases including murders, kidnappings, detentions and physical assaults were reported in Turkey, followed by Pakistan with nine cases.
Dozens of journalists remain behind bars in Turkey or are continually harassed and risk trial for criticizing, however mildly, President Erdogan’s government or one-man rule.
Many journalists and media workers are in pre-trial detention or serving sentences for terrorism offenses as a result of their journalistic work.
The state uses the justice system over which it has greater control to send its critics to jail on trumped up charges, without convincing evidence of criminal activity. It also abuses regulatory bodies, like the RTUK and the Press Advertising Authority (BIK), to punish and financially cripple independent media.
One can easily see the repression of freedom of thought in Turkey from the fact that in 2021, just like the previous year, Turkey ranked first among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) for the number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning violations of freedom of expression. (ANI)

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