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Turkey’s crackdown on media that criticized the government over the earthquake

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Turkey’s crackdown on media that criticized the government over the earthquake

Three Turkish TV channels have been fined by the government’s media regulator for their coverage of earthquake news, which they deemed excessively critical of the government. The three channels affected by the measure, Halk TV, Tele 1 e FOX, are independent media that are not aligned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: they have received fines calculated on the basis of their revenues (between 5 and 3 percent of January’s revenues); two of these will also have to suspend part of their programs for five days.

The management of the emergency following the February 6 earthquake, which struck the south of the country and Syria, killing over 42,000 in Turkey alone, has become the main topic of political dispute. The punitive measure against the three television channels was made public and denounced by Ilhan Tasci, a member of the Supreme Radio and Television Council (RTUK) appointed by the opposition parties.

The effects of the earthquake in Samandag, in southern Turkey (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

The punishment against the three television stations was defined as “a crime against viewers” by the president of the Turkish journalists’ association, Nazmi Bilgin, who considers the Supreme Council an “instrument of censorship”. Halk TV, Tele 1 e FOX they were fined for comments by some of their own journalists and for hosting Ahmet Sik, a lawyer and member of the Turkish Workers’ Party. In October, the Turkish government approved a law “against fake news” which provides for penalties of up to three years for the dissemination of “false news”: the measure was viewed with concern by most international observers, because it could constitute a tool to further restrict freedom of the press.

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Earthquake management may become a new problem for Erdogan in view of the presidential elections in May, when the Turkish president, in office since 2014 (previously he was prime minister), will seek a re-election. In recent weeks, Erdogan has been accused of not having reacted quickly enough, quickly sending the necessary aid to the affected territories, and in general of not having been sufficiently prepared for an event of this kind, even though his country is notoriously very exposed to earthquakes and despite other similar disasters that have occurred in the past.

Despite the highly repressive measures put into practice after the failed coup d’état of 2016 and the great limitations imposed on opposition parties and press freedom, the outcome of the next elections is not certain and any single opposition candidate, still defined but probable, he has a chance of winning according to the polls. Halk TVone of the three television stations fined by the supervisory authority, is considered very close to the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition force.

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