The IPI global network today condemned sanctions imposed by Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK) on six television channels – KRT, Fox TV, Haber Türk, Halk TV, TELE 1 and TR 35 – in response to the channels’ coverage of the most recent wildfires in southwestern Turkey.

The sanctions were imposed during a meeting of the Council on August 11, 2021. İlhan Taşçı, one of the RTÜK members nominated by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was expelled from the meeting by the majority votes of RTÜK members from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and coalition partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) at the request of RTÜK Chair Ebubekir Şahin. Taşçı was banned from entering the council meeting over accusations that he made “comments reflecting bias” on social media posts where he announced the meeting to discuss fines on the channels.

“RTÜK has become little more than a political tool to pressure and intimidate critical and independent media outlets, both through severe monetary fines and threat-like warnings to stop media from covering significant events of public interest”, IPI Program Coordinator Renan Akyavaş said. “RTÜK’s politicized nature and decisions are a major danger to press freedom in Turkey. It is appalling and unacceptable that a member is not allowed to enter a meeting for opposing RTÜK’s politically motivated censorship. IPI strongly condemns this decision and calls on the council to withdraw its fines.”

RTÜK issued a statement on July 30 warning TV channels not to report on the ongoing wildfires in southwestern provinces of Turkey, referring to Article 8 of the RTÜK regulation on “reliability and accuracy of the news”. Later, on August 4, 2021, local news reported that additional letters were sent to some TV channels stating that criminal sanctions would be imposed on those who continued to report from the area of the fires. The letters reportedly warned the broadcasters for not complying with the first “reminder” and claimed the media outlets were “producing news creating fear and concern amongst public”.

RTÜK warnings were met with public outcry, including from politicians and journalists. Taşçı had said on his Twitter account that the warnings amounted to a threat: “don’t show the fires or you will be punished!”

Following Taşçı’s ban on entering the council meeting on August 11, Taşçı said in a statement that he was forced to leave the meeting because he revealed the attempt to censor broadcasters. “As a member of RTÜK, it is my duty to fight against the restrictions on the freedom of information that the government seeks to impose through RTÜK. It is also my obligation and duty to share my own views and acts with the public in line with this purpose. There is no provision or restriction in the RTÜK statute or in any other legislation that would limit this freedom of mine”, Taşçı said in his statement.