The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the latest fines issued by Turkey’s broadcast regulator against a number of television stations over content critical of the government and its allies.

According to local reports, the reasons for the fines issued by the Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) against Halk TV, Habertürk, Tele 1, KRT and Fox TV were either the contents of the news or the comments made during the programmes aired.

“These latest fines confirm that RTÜK has become a means to stifle media content critical not only of the government or president but also of any political allies, prosecutors, and governors”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. “RTÜK’s fines targeting certain broadcasters that continue to air critical coverage are part of a clear pattern to punish free media.”

Halk TV was issued fine over programme host Özlem Gürses’s coverage of a satirical news story regarding Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is the coalition partner of the ruling AKP party, after she mistook the satirical news as a real incident. RTÜK also imposed a second fine on Halk TV in relation to comments made in the programme called “Kayda Geçsin” (On the Record), which concerned the disproportionate use of police force against student protesters. The commentary was cited as denigrating and insulting the police forces.

Habertürk was fined over a guest’s words of “Governors are militants, district governors are militants, judges are militants” during a programme called “Enine Boyuna” (Tip to Toe) on the grounds that such words would harm individuals and institutions.

RTÜK also fined Tele 1 over comments made by Rifat Serdaroğlu, a guest and leader of the True Party, concerning the president and the judiciary in the programme “Anında Manşet” (Headline Now). Serdaroğlu’s statements reportedly appeared to characterize the president as a dictator and the judiciary as the enforcers of the AKP. RTÜK argued that the programme therefore contained statements denigrating judiciary and critique of the president which were “beyond the limits of criticism” and that the moderator did not intervene in any way.

KRT was fined for “defamatory and libelous expressions” concerning news anchor Zafer Arapkirli’s comments on whether the polices force were acting as the militants of the ruling party during the mass student protests following the appointment of a new rector at the Boğaziçi University by President Erdoğan.

FOX TV, one of Turkey’s largest remaining critical broadcasters, was fined over a prime-time news segment reporting the lack of agricultural support by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to dairy farmers. RTÜK imposed the fine on the broadcaster after it claimed FOX didn’t investigate the matter according to professional ethical principles for the press.

RTÜK has been heavily criticized recently for increasingly issuing fines against critical TV stations and media outlets and thereby becoming a convenient means to punish critical media. According to a December 2020 report by İlhan Taşçı, a member of RTÜK for the opposition political CHP, critical channels Halk TV, Tele 1, FOX TV, Habertürk and KRT were subject to a total of 46 administrative fines and eight broadcasting suspensions in 2020. In total, the channels were fined around 10 million Turkish lira (approximately 1.175 million  euros)

The Council’s members are appointed by the political parties in proportion to their number of seats in the Grand National Assembly. Currently, the AKP has four RTÜK members while its coalition ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has two. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also has two seats, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has one. This gives the AKP-MHP coalition a seven-to-three majority in RTÜK.