The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, journalists, and media executives for press freedom, condemns the latest decision by Turkey’s broadcast regulator to fine several broadcasters over their critical reporting. Turkish authorities must not suppress the media, especially as the country approaches the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. 

“This is the latest in the grave attacks on the freedom of press and expression in Turkey. These attacks, which are deliberately designed and implemented to destroy independent journalism and critical broadcasting and turn Turkey into a country with one voice, have been going on for years. The authorities always find an excuse to issue such fines”, Emre Kızılkaya, the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee and a vice chair of IPI’s Executive Board said.

“The opposition can also take steps to put an end to these arbitrary penalties and sanctions imposed by the authorities of regulatory institutions in the field of media such as RTÜK, BİK and BTK. They can announce that the commercial losses caused by this censorship in the past will be recourse to the relevant institutions’ managers who approved them.”

On March 22, İlhan Taşçı, an opposition-nominated member of the Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), said on Twitter that RTÜK had fined broadcasters Halk TV, TELE 1, FOX TV, Show TV, and Yıldız EN TV and issued broadcast bans against several of their programmes.

RTÜK fined Halk TV for “praising criminals”, citing Halk TV’s promotion of a newly released fiction book authored by the currently imprisoned former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş. Halk TV was fined five percent of its monthly ad revenue and handed a five-time suspension of the programme in which the book promotion was run.

Halk TV received an additional penalty of three percent of its monthly ad revenue for “breaching the principle of objectivity” in its reporting. In this case, RTÜK cited Halk TV’s coverage of a statement by Turhan Çömez, a doctor and politician, that intubated earthquake survivor patients in a hospital in the southeastern city İskenderun were dying due to power generators not functioning.

Meanwhile, TELE1 was fined three percent of its monthly ad revenue after a speaker in one of its talk show programmes referred to the governing AKP party as “fascistic”. Criticism aired on the station of the government’s ban on a recent women’s march was also cited as grounds for the fine.

RTÜK fined another channel, FOX TV, for broadcasting criticism of the Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality in southeastern Turkey, which is governed by the AKP. The municipality authorities were criticized for not clearing the river basin which led to the recent flood in the region. FOX TV was assessed a fine of three percent of its monthly ad revenue.

Yet another channel, Yıldız EN TV, was fined 85,738 Turkish lira (about 4,000 euros) for its critical coverage of the aftermath of February’s earthquakes. The decision to fine the channel was reportedly taken on February 22 though the channel’s management was informed only in late March. A fifth broadcaster, Show TV, was fined over what RTÜK said was depictions of violence against women.