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State-run TRT stops airing opposition leader’s speech in anticipation of criticism

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Public broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) stopped airing a speech by Turkey’s main opposition leader Özgür Özel on Tuesday after Özel attempted to criticize the station due to its failure to give coverage to opposition politicians.

Özel, who spoke at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, was informed by party officials that TRT Haber was airing his speech. The politician wanted to use this rare opportunity to criticize TRT, a publicly funded media outlet, for what he said was its biased coverage against politicians from his party and other opposition parties.

Just as Özel began to voice his criticism, TRT Haber, which aired three minutes and 25 seconds of his speech, halted the broadcast. The station also deleted his speech from its X account.

Özel said in his speech that TRT is defined as an “autonomous and independent” organization in the Turkish Constitution but that it is acting like the mouthpiece of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Figures given by Özel show that CHP mayoral candidates for the March 31 local elections such as İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş and İzmir mayoral candidate Cemil Tugay have been given no coverage on TRT since January 1, while their rivals from the AKP were granted almost 30 minutes of coverage each.

While AKP leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received 2,952 minutes of airtime by TRT since January 1, Özel has been given only 43 minutes in the same period, according to the figures announced by the CHP leader.

“I think they will cover us when our party headquarters catches fire, or they will cover my funeral if I die. I don’t want TRT to be at my funeral when I die,” said Özel.

Opposition politicians have long been complaining about TRT due to its failure to give fair coverage of all the political parties in the country despite the fact that it is funded by citizens from every party.

They say a lack of or limited coverage of opposition parties and the political campaigns of their politicians by TRT in contrast to generous coverage given to the AKP and its candidates is a significant disadvantage for opposition parties to promote their election campaigns.

Television dominates as a primary news source shaping public opinion for many people in Turkey, especially among the elderly who do not use social media.

Opposition parties say AKP propaganda on state-run TV plays a big role in the party’s election successes, calling into question election fairness since opposition candidates are deprived of the opportunity to reach out to voters on this popular medium.

On the other hand, most election rallies for Erdoğan and the AKP are broadcast live by the station.

TRT was subordinated to the president’s office with a decree issued in 2018.

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