Erdoğan using pandemic to further clamp down on media - Deutsche Welle

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the coronavirus pandemic as a means to silence the country’s few remaining critical media outlets, prompting the country’s opposition lawmakers and journalists to fear a new wave of censorship, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

The current climate in the country recalls that of the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, when Erdoğan’s government launched an unprecedented crackdown on opposition figures and critics, it said.

Following the failed putsch, dozens of journalists have been imprisoned or harassed with legal challenges and more than 200 media outlets have been closed down. And critical media outlets, which could manage to survive, have been forced into self-censorship. 

As Turkey grapples with the global pandemic, the Turkish president last week said that the country had to be rescued not only from COVID-19, but from "all media and political viruses, too," in an apparent reference to journalists and critics from opposition parties, Deutsche Welle said.

Erdoğan has accused the country’s media of disseminating false information and untruths on the novel virus, as Turkey reports a soaring number of cases, the seventh highest in the world, with a steady death rate.

There are ongoing debates about protective measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

The opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, has been the forerunner in calls for a complete lockdown that extends beyond a few days, but Erdoğan has thus far dismissed the idea. Furthermore, aid campaigns by opposition municipalities to help families during the pandemic have been blocked by the government, which accuses the opposition using such efforts to form a "parallel state." 

A prisoner release bill passed earlier this month that will see up to 90,000 of the country’s 300,000 inmates released in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus in Turkey’s overcrowded prisons has also been an issue of contention.

The exclusion of journalists and political prisoners from the amnesty bill points to the ongoing  "toxic relationship between the Turkish press and the government,” Deutsche Welle said.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities launched an investigation into Ahval contributor Nurcan Baysal after she criticized the shortage of protective masks on Twitter. 

Erdoğan slapped Fatih Portakal, a popular host on the FOX TV station, with a criminal complaint after posting an ironic tweet criticizing the government's campaign to raise funds to fight the pandemic as state-run media accused the anchor of "spreading lies and manipulating the public on social media." 

"For Erdogan, opposition media are even worse than a virus," Erol Önderoğlu from Reporters Without Borders told Deutsche Welle. "The reform shows that the government sees the media more like a plague."