The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the decision taken by Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) to suspend the critical television broadcasters TELE 1 and Halk TV for five days.

On June 26, RTÜK President Ebubekir Şahin announced that an investigation had been opened against TELE 1 TV regarding critical comments by the station’s owner and programme host Merdan Yanardağ’s about Ottoman Emperor Abdülhamit in his programme “18 Minutes” (18 Dakika). The investigation resulted in a 5-day sanction suspending the broadcast of TELE 1.

Another independent tv station, Halk TV, was also given a 5-day broadcast ban. The ban was reported online by opposition political party CHP and RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı on July 1. According to local reports, the reason for the 5-day sanction issued to Halk TV was Ayşenur Arslan’s programme with another critical and outspoken journalist, Hüsnü Mahalli.

According to RTÜK member Taşçı’s post on social media, the decision on sanctions was not unanimous, which underscores IPI’s long-standing concerns around what appears to be RTÜK’s deliberate policy to target and silence the critical, independent media in the country.

According to RTÜK regulations, if these TV stations receive another ban under the same violation, RTÜK can cancel their broadcasting license, which will lead to the TV stations’ closure.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen strongly criticized RTÜK’s newest broadcast bans.

“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 highly criticized for its recent numerous broadcast bans and monetary fines imposed on TV stations.

The majority of the Council members were appointed by the ruling government coalition.

The Council’s membership is reflective of the Grand National Assembly, with the governing party having the greatest number of members: Currently, the AKP has four RTÜK members while its coalition ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have two members each, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has one. As it is highly unlikely for pro-government members to be outvoted, and bans and fines are almost exclusively aimed at independent media, RTÜK currently functions as an extension of the government’s policy to punish critical media.

Taşçı recently published a fact sheet on Twitter in May showing the distribution of sanctions imposed by RTÜK over the previous last 17 months. The data show that critical news channels HALK TV, TELE 1, FOX TV and KRT received a total of 28 administrative fines and 8 broadcasting suspensions. FOX TV, which is considered to be the last critical TV channel in mainstream media, has been fined to a total of 4,421,775 Turkish lira (about 575,000 euros) in administrative fines between January 1, 2019 and March 25, 2020.

Meanwhile, pro-government TV channels such as ATV, ÜLKE TV, TGRT News received only a total of 2 warnings and 1 administrative fine during this same time period – despite the fact that, according to reports, there were 89,987 public complaints against the pro-government ATV.