Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the federal media censorship body, recently passed regulations against “non-traditional” programming such as dating shows and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that at least one RTÜK member has condemned as a threat to free speech.
The RTÜK has been regulating broadcast media under state of emergency laws since the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Last week, it issued decrees banning dating programs for not “fit[ing] in with Turkish traditions,” according to Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş. In March, Kurtulmuş had warned that a new decree would target programming that served to “damage the institution of the family, taking away its nobility and sanity.”
Broadcasters will be punished by the state for broadcasting the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for similar reasons. Citing an advertisement for the show that called it a New Year’s Eve “tradition,” the RTÜK decreed: “It is being presented as if watching an underwear fashion parade is a Turkish custom. This is damaging children’s physical, psychological, and moral development.”
For many Islamists, celebrating New Year’s Eve is seen as a violation of Islam and the participation in a Christian holiday. While the Islamist Erdogan government has not banned New Year’s Eve celebrations, they have become a target for jihadists in the country, with one Islamic State terrorist committing a massacre in a nightclub on Istanbul on the last night of 2016.
RTÜK’s new decrees have triggered criticism from within the agency itself. İsmet Demirdöğen, a member of the agency and of the main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), told reporters that the new laws against the fashion show and all “matchmaking shows” could silence entire television outlets that also engage in journalism and free expression.
“Threats that TV and radio broadcasters could face media blackout and cancelation of their licenses have been hidden behind the purpose of banning matchmaking shows,” he told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “Nearly all criticisms [of the government] and violations have been cited as possible reasons for a media blackout”:
For example, if a movie including curse words is aired 20 times, it could cause the suspension of the broadcaster. Minds are still not clear on what this decree actually introduces, and even those who passed this regulation don’t know exactly what they have proposed… After this point, broadcasting has been made into something that requires courage. A brave broadcaster may continue these programs, but punishments may extend to canceling licenses.
In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) declared Turkey the “world’s biggest prison for media professionals,” citing the thousands of arrests of suspected supporters of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen and shutdown of hundreds of media outlets allegedly tied to him. Gulen, a resident of Pennsylvania, runs a series of charter schools in the United States. Erdogan blames him for the July coup attempt against him and has blamed his supporters for a variety of terrorist attacks in the country, including the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov.
“The witchhunt waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government against its media critics has come to a head since the abortive coup of July 2016,” according to RSF. “The authorities have used their fight against ‘terrorism’ as grounds for an unprecedented purge. A state of emergency has allowed them to eliminate dozens of media outlets at the stroke of a pen, reducing pluralism to a handful of low-circulation publications.”
RTÜK has used its powers in increasingly inexplicable ways to silence reporting. In February, the agency banned the use of the words “breaking news” on television, alleging that the phrase was “agitating.” Images of “fire department vehicles, police vehicles, ambulance footage, witness accounts, officials at the scene, and evidence-collecting work,” cannot be broadcast without punishment in Turkey.
The largest wave of crackdowns took place in July 2016, shortly following the failed coup. Erdogan’s government shut down 131 media agencies in one night, cutting off live broadcasts with police raids, claiming that the organizations in question were tied to Gulen. Among them were “three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations and 45 newspapers.”
The government has repeatedly denied that it has limited freedom of expression or press in the country. “In Turkey, no media outlet or press has been shut down or closed by President Erdoğan. And President Erdogan has no power [to do so],” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu told Breitbart News in a March interview.