Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has imposed fines on six TV stations due to the way they covered wildfires that started on the country’s southern and western coasts on July 28, the Evrensel daily reported on Wednesday.
Last week, Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker İlhan Taşçı, who is also a member of RTÜK, revealed that RTÜK chairman Ebubekir Şahin sent a warning to the managers of the TV stations, threatening them with punishment if they cover the wildfires. Şahin told the managers they would be given the harshest punishment possible if they covered the blazes. Şahin also allegedly told the managers to only show the areas where the flames have been brought under control and explain to the public how successfully the fires were contained in those areas.
RTÜK convened on Wednesday to discuss punishments to be imposed on the TV stations that ignored its warning, and six stations including Fox TV, Habertürk and Halk TV have been fined.
Okan Konuralp, a RTÜK member from the CHP, tweeted that the fine imposed on Fox TV was caused by the remark of a reporter who said while covering the wildfires, “The flames spread so quickly, it’s like a nightmare.”
Konuralp also said fellow RTÜK member Taşçı was expelled from the meeting by a majority of votes because he revealed his views about the punishments before the meeting.
Taşçı denied the claim.
Konuralp said TV stations that covered politicians’ statements such those made by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu about what they described as RTÜK censorship have also been fined.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have faced widespread criticism over the apparent poor response and inadequate preparedness for the large-scale wildfires, which claimed the lives of nine people and destroyed large swathes of forestland. A majority of the fires had been contained as of Aug. 11.
As residents lost homes and livestock, anger turned toward the government, which admitted that it did not have a usable firefighting aircraft fleet. Opposition parties accused the government of failing to procure firefighting planes and instead spending money on construction projects that they say are harmful to the environment.
According to a Human Rights Watch report in December 2020, RTÜK is contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.
Broadcasting bans and fines are used by RTÜK to punish TV stations that are critical of the AKP government.