The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the decision by Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) to issue the highest possible monetary fine against TELE 1 after it broadcast an advert marking the 25th anniversary of critical newspaper Evrensel.

As Evrensel reported on August 27, RTÜK issued the fine to TELE1 over an advertisement by Evrensel that was broadcasted in June 2020 for its quarter-century anniversary. The newspaper is one the few remaining print outlets which is critical of the Turkish government.

The disputed advertisement had called for a social media gathering to mark the anniversary on June 7 with a message calling for equal labour rights, gender equality, artistic diversity peace and press freedom.

RTÜK claimed a young girl pictured in the ad holding a shawl with the colours of red, green and yellow alongside text saying “living in peace and fraternity” resembled the Kurdish liberation movement’s flag and accused TELE1 of broadcasting content praising terrorist organizations.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said the financial penalties were “an act of intimidation aimed at silencing critical media through entirely arbitrary fines”.

TELE1’s owner and journalist Merdan Yanardağ told IPI that RTÜK has become a clear tool for government censorship of media. “Anti-democratic RTÜK with the majority of government members fining TELE1 for an ad that has no legal responsibility for the colours used in is a tragicomic situation,” he said. “This a threat against freedom of the press.”

Evrensel Editor-in-Chief Fatih Polat explained: “The photograph used in the ad is from a Newroz celebration of Kurds [possibly in 2018], the arrival of the spring. These colours are accepted by Kurds as their national colours and used during Newroz celebrations where they renew their desire for liberation every year. […] Calling this ‘terrorist propaganda’ is a sign of the type of “Kurdish-phobia” that we see in Turkey”

“The fine against TELE1 is censorship based on unreasonable manipulation. We stand with TELE1,” Polat added.

Recently RTÜK has increasingly imposed large monetary fines and broadcasting bans, often over minor or insignificant issues, as a means to restrict media freedom in Turkey.

Only last week, it issued monetary fines against five TV broadcasters: SÖZCÜ TV, AKİT TV, TV8, TELE1 and TLC. The fines, which target broadcasters from various sides of the political spectrum, ranged from “criticizing RTÜK for not fining other media outlets” to promoting homosexuality”.