Freedom of the press in TurkeyRecep Tayyip Erdogan tightens the media thumbscrews
A victory for transparency or a gag for critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government? Turkey's latest legislative initiative foresees that in future media financed using foreign funds will be subject to special obligations.
The bill proposed by the ultra-nationalist MHP party provides that institutions and their "information dissemination activities" should be conferred with a " special status" if they are financed by foreign funds. As a result, persons and organisations will be made "clearly" identifiable.
In addition, media that receives direct or indirect funding from abroad will have to nominate a representative in Turkey. This "media representative" must register and be accountable to the Turkish Ministry of the Interior.
In Turkey, about 95 percent of print and television media are already controlled by companies close to the Islamic-conservative ruling party AKP. As a result, opposition forces have turned to small, alternative online platforms such as Mediascope, Mezapotamya News or T24.
These media have only small budgets, but often receive financial support from abroad – both from public and private funds. To the annoyance of the Turkish government, these funds often come from European countries. The MHP's legislative initiative could now ensure that this source of income dries up.
Fines in the millions?
Foreign platforms or persons who fail to name a representative from abroad or fail to contact the Ministry of the Interior could soon face a prison sentence of between two and five years or fines of up to one million lira.
The deputy leader of the MHP, Feti Yildiz, claimed that the proposed law is about transparency: "Our aim is to uncover who is engaged in what activities. Because there are people and institutions that only receive funds with the express intention of engaging in anti-government activities under the guise of freedom of the press." According to Yildiz, the proposed law should not affect large foreign broadcasters such as the British BBC or Deutsche Welle, because the sources of income of these broadcasters are transparent.
But there are foreign media, Yildiz continues, that use the funds to criticise the Turkish government. "This is what we are trying to prevent." Yildiz stresses that his party's proposal is not about restricting the freedom of journalistic work. "We have no problems with press freedom. Anyone who reads the proposed legislation properly will understand what we are about."
"Right to genuine news"
Presidential Palace Communications Director Fehrettin Altun also commented on the proposed legislation: "We will finalise the arrangements we need as soon as possible, with the aim of protecting public order and ensuring the people's right to genuine news."
Journalists' organisations, on the other hand, sense another blow to press freedom. Renan Akyavas, Turkey coordinator of the International Press Institute (IPI), revealed that they are currently trying to obtain more information about the bill introduced by the MHP – which is why they are seeking to talk to MPs.
"The MHP's proposal poses a serious threat to the media (...). We are very concerned (...). The MHP wants to cut the funds allocated for the preservation of independent journalism. But we will resist," Akyavas said.
"This has nothing to do with freedom of the press"
Yusuf Kanli, vice-president of the Turkish Association of Journalists, points out that media platforms financed from abroad already report to the Ministry of Finance and regularly publish annual reports.
"What is happening right now is that any journalist who has received funding (from abroad) is being branded," Kanli explains. "The branding of journalists is a hot issue and has nothing to do with press freedom. We are not going to accept this."
Esra Kocak, head of the Turkish Journalists' Association in Ankara, is also alarmed. She says it is no secret that both the MHP and the Islamic conservative ruling party AKP are making every attempt to increase pressure on the press.
"People have freely chosen to get their news from abroad. The government is aware of this and is now trying to close these channels or intimidate independent media with punishments." She said her association will fight to ensure that they are not drained dry financially or stigmatised as propagandists.
Pressure on independent media organisations has been mounting in Turkey in recent years. With the Media Law 5651, which was introduced in October last year, the Turkish government also massively increased its control over online content.
For example, the law obliges platforms with over one million users to open a branch in Turkey. If Twitter or others refuse to open a representative office on Turkish soil, Turkish courts are capable of throttling their reach by up to 95 percent.
© Deutsche Welle 2021