Three Turkish TV channels have been fined by the government’s media regulator for their coverage of earthquake news, which they deemed excessively critical of the government. The three channels affected by the measure, Halk TV, Tele 1 and FOX, are independent media outlets that are not aligned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: they have received fines calculated on the basis of their revenues (between 5 and 3 percent of the month’s revenues of January); two of these will also have to suspend part of their programs for five days.
The management of the emergency following the February 6 earthquake, which struck the south of the country and Syria, killing over 42,000 in Turkey alone, has become the main topic of political dispute. The punitive measure against the three television channels was made public and denounced by Ilhan Tasci, a member of the Supreme Radio and Television Council (RTUK) appointed by the opposition parties.
The punishment against the three television stations was defined as “a crime against viewers” by the president of the Turkish journalists’ association, Nazmi Bilgin, who considers the Supreme Council an “instrument of censorship”. Halk TV, Tele 1 and FOX were fined for comments by some of their own journalists and for hosting Ahmet Sik, a lawyer and Turkish Workers Party member. In October, the Turkish government approved a law “against fake news” which provides for penalties of up to three years for the dissemination of “false news”: the measure was viewed with concern by most international observers, because it could constitute a possible tool to further limit the freedom of the press.
The management of the earthquake could become a further problem for Erdogan in view of the presidential elections in May, when the Turkish president, in office since 2014 (previously he was prime minister), will seek a re-election. In recent weeks, Erdogan has been accused of not having reacted quickly enough, quickly sending the necessary aid to the affected territories, and in general of not having been sufficiently prepared for an event of this kind, even though his country is notoriously very exposed to earthquakes and despite other similar disasters in the past.
Despite the highly repressive measures put into practice after the failed coup d’état of 2016 and the great restrictions imposed on opposition parties and press freedom, the outcome of the next elections is not certain and a single opposition candidate, not yet defined, has chances of winning according to polls. Halk TV, one of the three television stations fined by the supervisory authority, is considered very close to the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition force.
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