Turkish Government Faces Criticism Over Latest Press Censorship
Access to outlets funded by the US and German governments was blocked
The Turkish government is facing fresh accusations that it is censoring the press after the country’s media authority blocked outlets funded by the United States and Germany, at the same time as Ankara has been trying to improve relations with the two key allies.
Access to Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) and the Turkish website for the Voice of America (VOA) was blocked on Friday following a court decision a day earlier that enforced a rule by Turkey’s media authority.
Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), told the news organizations that they had to apply for a license in February, which they refused to do, arguing that obtaining a license would allow for censorship of their reporting.
“Not only is this against media freedom, it also has no practical benefit to the government,” according to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund.
Unluhisarcikli told The Media Line that most Turkish people get their news from television and that VOA and DW don’t have large enough audiences to make them particularly significant.
He also said that those who do consume those news organizations would turn to other outlets that also are critical of the government, not to ones that support it.
Not only is this against media freedom, it also has no practical benefit to the government
In a statement after DW was blocked, the outlet’s director general Peter Limbourg said that the media authority forces licensed media to delete content that it deems inappropriate.
“This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” he said in a statement.
VOA tweeted about software that people could use to circumvent the block and access the outlet’s website.
The Turkish government has been accused of undermining democratic checks and balances and stifling critical dissent, especially since the anti-government Gezi Park protests in 2013.
Those arguments have only intensified since the failed coup attempt in 2016, when news outlets were shuttered, academics lost their jobs and journalists and opposition politicians were imprisoned, often facing terrorism charges.
A statement from RTUK said that the media authority supports freedom of the press and that if the outlets register for licensing, then the council would request judicial authorities to stop the blocking of the sites.
An opposition politician who is a member of RTUK, tweeted: “Here is freedom of the press and advanced democracy,” while a union representing Turkish journalists called the move to block access “censorship.”
In a statement, VOA said it would not be deterred.
“We oppose this move as a thinly veiled effort to censor unfavorable press coverage,” said the acting director for VOA, Yolanda Lopez.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Turkey to change course.
“Turkish authorities’ censorship of the international broadcasters Voice of America and Deutsche Welle is the latest attempt to silence critical media as the country prepares to hold elections next year,” Gulnoza Said, the organization’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.
The US and Germany are two of Turkey’s most important allies.
The US provides crucial protection as a nuclear power and NATO member who, through the military alliance, agrees to come to Turkey’s defense it it’s attacked, known as the collective defense principle.
Turkish authorities’ censorship of the international broadcasters Voice of America and Deutsche Welle is the latest attempt to silence critical media as the country prepares to hold elections next year
However, Turkey’s relations with the US in recent years have taken a hit on several fronts, from Turkey’s human rights record to its offensives in Syria, including against US-allied Kurdish fighters.
Germany is also a key partner, financially and culturally.
According to the German government, bilateral trade was worth $3.7 billion, and Germany is one of the top sources of tourism for Turkey, a crucial sector for the economy.
Germany also has 3 million citizens of Turkish origin, providing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with an important voting bloc.
While Ankara has tried to improve ties with the West after years of strained relations in a bid to attract foreign investment, Erdogan also has put those ties at risk, such as voicing concerns over Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Some pollsters believe that the move strengthened Erdogan’s approval rating, which has been on the decline during an economic crisis about a year or less before the Turkish president faces elections.
Erdogan already experienced how a poor economy could impact him at the ballot box.
In 2018, Turkey experienced another currency crisis after the country faced US sanctions due to the detention of an American pastor.
The ensuing economic fallout was partly blamed for Erdogan’s party losing the 2019 local elections in Istanbul and Ankara, considered his biggest political loss since coming to power.