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Erdogan and the media: On the government line – media – society

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an increase in the minimum wage, he was sure to receive enthusiastic media coverage. “Good News” was the headline in many newspapers and TV stations, because the government controls most of them. Only a few newspapers, broadcasters and Internet platforms made it clear that the wage increase for millions of employees is not even enough to offset inflation. It will be more difficult for Turks to find critical reports in the future, because the government is increasing the pressure on the media before the 2023 elections – including on western providers with Turkish content.

The Turkish Internet has long been subject to censorship. For the first time, Turkey has now also banned the Turkish-language Internet offerings of public service media from the West. At the request of the broadcasting control authority RTÜK, a court in Ankara blocked access to the website of the tax-financed Deutsche Welle (DW) and to the Turkish service of the US Congress-financed broadcaster Voice of America (VoA).

The broadcasting regulator said it respects freedom of the press, but the media must obey the law. Government representatives have the majority on the RTÜK board.

DW and VoA had refused to apply for a broadcasting license from RTÜK. A license would have obliged DW to delete videos whose content did not please the broadcasting supervisory authority, explained DW director Peter Limbourg. That is unacceptable. Because DW combines all language offers under one roof, it was completely blocked in Turkey, while VoA only turned off the Turkish offer.

“Here you have your freedom of the press and your modern democracy,” was the sarcastic comment of Ilhan Tasci, an opposition representative at RTÜK.

The journalists’ association CGD accused RTÜK of allowing itself to be misused as a government bludgeon. RTÜK recently fined four opposition TV channels for covering a speech by opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. In the video message, Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan was channeling millions into the accounts of government-related foundations and preparing to flee abroad.

Turkey ranked 149th out of 180 countries included

The state does not stop at fines. According to the opposition count, 30 journalists were arrested in Turkey in June alone. Twenty of them were arrested during a police operation in the Kurdish south-east of the country. The journalists are accused of supporting the terrorist group PKK. Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

The pressure could increase before the next parliamentary and presidential elections. The government is working on an amendment to the press law that would impose prison sentences of up to three years for anyone who spreads “misleading” news, inciting “fear and panic”.

According to media expert Yaman Akdeniz, the planned law will allow the pro-government judiciary to track thousands of critical Twitter comments before the election. The adoption is scheduled for October.

The government would thus close a gap. She has brought most of the mainstream media into her line through pro-government publishers, but has so far failed to do so with social media and the internet. Press rights activists see the blocking of DW and VoA as an attempt to do so.

Despite the court decision, DW and VoA continue to offer Turkish reports on the Internet. On Twitter, where they have a combined total of more than a million Turkish followers, they give their readers advice on how to bypass access restrictions.

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