(Istanbul) – The closure of eight independent news and current affairs-focused TV channels effectively ends critical television news reporting in Turkey. The channels are among 23 television and radio stations reported by the media to face closure on the basis of a Turkish government decree.
The latest move to censor media, under cover of the state of emergency imposed following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, exceeds any legitimate restriction justifiable on national security grounds and violates the government’s freedom of expression obligations.
“Fears that the government would make opportunistic use of the state of emergency to silence critics who have nothing to do with the July 15 coup attempt have come true,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “This week’s closure of TV and radio channels popular with Kurds, the Alevi religious minority, and supporters of opposition parties takes Turkey back to the old days and shows that the government wants no version of the news on television or radio other than its own.”
On September 28, the official Anatolian Agency reported that 23 television and radio stations – the most prominent of which is the news and current affairs-focused İMC TV – were to be closed down completely. İMC TV had already been removed from the state-owned Türksat satellite distribution platform in February, severely cutting its ratings.
The basis for closing down the stations is a July decree that listed 131 media and publishing outlets to be shut down and provides that the relevant minister could approve the closure of any further private media outlet “not on the list” if they were judged by the government “to be a threat to national security or linked or in contact with terrorist groups.” The official government-controlled media watchdog RTÜK (Radio and Television Higher Council) has been tasked with implementing the closures, a source at İMC TV told Human Rights Watch. The media watchdog has not yet made a statement making public the names of all the 23 television and radio stations or providing full details of the decision.
On October 4, RTÜK officials accompanied by the police forcibly closed down the Istanbul-based news channels İMC TV, Hayatın Sesi TV, TV10, and a radio station, Özgür Radyo, interrupting live broadcasts. Over the past few days, RTÜK officials accompanied by police also forcibly closed down five news channels partly broadcasting in Kurdish: Özgür Gün TV, Azadi TV, Jiyan TV, Van TV, and Denge TV, and the children’s Kurdish-language channel Zarok TV. On October 5, İMC TV announced that the authorities had initiated steps to seize the broadcasting equipment and property belonging to the station and hand it over to the state broadcaster TRT. TRT announced that it had been appointed as the receiver handling the seizure after the closure of İMC TV.
The government closed down 131 media, publishing, and distribution outlets, the outlets covered in the initial decree, on July 25. At least 120 journalists and writers are in pretrial detention pending criminal investigation for their writing, over half of them in custody since July 15. Over 2,000 more journalists have lost their jobs as media outlets are shut down.
On October 3, the government announced that the state of emergency introduced for a 90-day period beginning July 21 would be extended for another 90 days. Under the state of emergency, the cabinet headed by the president can rule by decree, without effective scrutiny by parliament or the possibility of meaningful review by the Constitutional Court.
“İMC TV is the most prominent news channel among those closed down and has played an important role in covering news of the return to conflict in the southeast and the deterioration of human rights in Turkey more generally,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Closing down media is censorship and deprives the public access to information about critical developments in Turkey they have a right to know.”