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Turkey’s media watchdog says TV guests can’t be allowed freedom of expression

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In a controversial move, Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has stated that guests on TV programs cannot be allowed to express their views freely at a time when the media is powerful enough to cause major changes in the country, according to a document revealed by a member of the Turkish Parliament.

RTÜK’s statement came in response to an appeal filed in court by the opposition Halk TV after RTÜK hit it with a fine due to remarks made by a guest during a program.

The document, dated July 20, 2020, was revealed by independent İstanbul deputy Cihangir İslam. “This is a situation that is beyond terrible,” İslam tweeted on Sunday.

In the document, which was sent to the court by RTÜK, in response to the appeal from Halk TV, RTÜK said, “At a time when the media has enough power to cause the fall of a government, to affect financial decisions, to say openly whoever it wants to bring to power, it is impossible to talk about the freedom of every TV guest to say whatever they want.”

In a statement last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused RTÜK of contributing to increasing censorship in Turkey by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.

The statement said RTÜK contributed to censorship in a country where the vast majority of television news outlets are already pro-government by imposing five-day broadcasting bans on two TV stations and heavy fines on others.

According to a recent report from İlhan Taşçı, a RTÜK member from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), RTÜK imposed fines on TV stations critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) 25 times the amount it imposed on pro-government TV stations in 2020.

RTÜK has long been been criticized for surrendering its independence and acting as a government weapon to punish TV stations critical of the AKP government while turning a blind eye to complaints about pro-government TV stations.

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