Turkish authorities continue to bring down hammer on critical TV broadcasters

(Recasts with media crackdown through April)

Turkish authorities have targeted three television broadcasters critical of the government’s policies over the past two weeks, the latest in the spotlight being Fox TV news anchor Fatih Portakal.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor on Thursday requested one to three years imprisonment for Portakal over Portakal’s social media post critical of the government’s COVID-19 response.

Following a complaint by the Turkish Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK), the prosecutor’s office said Portakal’s post aimed to create the perception that bank depositors’ money could be confiscated by the state under the pretext of the coronavirus epidemic and could be repaid after the crisis, said the news media organisation.

An investigation by the prosecutor’s office concluded that the news anchor’s post had violated Article 74 of Turkey’s banking law, which states that any unproven information provided via media sources that damages the reputation or financial integrity of a banking institution is illegal.

The legal action against Portakal, a long-time critic of Turkey’s ruling party,  comes a week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slapped the popular anchor with a criminal complaint after posting an ironic tweet criticising the government's campaign to raise funds to fight the pandemic. The state-run media has also accused Portakal of "spreading lies and manipulating the public on social media".

Portakal’s employer, Fox TV, also came under fire when Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) banned the channel from broadcasting three prime time news episodes where the news anchor made statements, deemed critical by the media regulator, on March 30, 31 and April 1.

Aside from speaking on government’s move to block pandemic aid campaigns by the main opposition party, Portakal had additionally addressed the politicisation of the Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, and the impoverishment of states during the pandemic.

Also Thursday, RTÜK also implemented a ban on five separate broadcasts of Halk TV program “Medya Mahallesi”, hosted by journalist Ayşenur Arslan.

"RTÜK has by now proven that it is literally a tool of power. At today's High Council meeting, as decided by the (president’s) Palace, the harshest punishments were given to all critical broadcasters (dissenting) for fabricating reports,” tweeted RTÜK member İlhan Taşcı, who announced the ban.

Taşcı did not provide a reason for the decision. 

RTÜK likewise imposed a ban on three broadcasts from a Tele 1 morning talk show after the program's host, Can Ataklı, spoke about a headscarf-wearing teacher, the Voice of America reported. Ataklı also questioned why “everyone is called a ‘martyr’. Whatever you do to someone, that’s a ‘martyr’. Everyone’s martyr is their own and everyone’s terrorist is their own”. The host was fined heavy monetary fines.