Turkey vows crackdown on foreign funding of media

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s communications director pledged a crackdown on foreign funding of local media organisations, labelling the activities as a “fifth column” against the country.

The government is closely following allegations that a foundation headquartered in the United States is funding some media outlets in Turkey, Fahrettin Altun told the state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday.

“It is clear that there is a need for a regulation for the media organisations operating in our country with the funds of foreign states or institutions,” he said. “We will complete the necessary arrangements as soon as possible to protect public order and to ensure the right of our people to correct news.”

Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in a 2020 press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. More than 90 percent of the media in Turkey, including every major television channel, is under direct government control or owned by businessmen with close political ties to Erdoğan’s governing party.

Altun referred to regulations in the United States that require media organisations funded by foreign governments to provide detailed information about their work to the authorities every six months.

"In an environment in which some foreign leaders openly express their intentions and efforts to design Turkish politics, we cannot interpret that any foreign state or institution provides various funds to the media sector independently of the interests in question,” he said. “No one should doubt that we can protect our democracy.”

More than 200 journalists and media workers have been imprisoned in Turkey in the past five years, Reporters Without Borders said in its 2020 report. Turkey continues to be one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, it said.

Independent news websites and social media have grown in popularity as a source of reliable information in Turkey during a crackdown on the media that has intensified since a failed military coup in 2016 and the introduction of a presidential system of government in the country in 2018.

Serious backsliding in most areas concerning fundamental rights and freedoms continues, the European Commission said in an annual report on Turkey's candidacy for EU membership in October.

Turkey should adopt a credible, comprehensive and meaningful action plan to effectively ensure full respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press, and address serious human rights violations, the commission said.