Turkey’s TV watchdog slaps unprecedented ban on opposition stations

(Updates with reactions to the ban)

Turkey’s state broadcasting regulator has slapped two opposition stations with a five-day black screen broadcast ban, a move the council’s opposition member says will be followed by a complete shutdown of the channels.

"The penalty levelled at Tele 1 and Halk TV was decided on by a majority vote. The next step will be pulling the plug entirely on the stations,’’ tweeted İlhan Taşçı, a board member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) affiliated with the main opposition party.

Taşcı said on Wednesday that RTÜK was ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to "rid Turkey of the media virus’’, and this was the first tier of the TV watchdog’s mandate to shut down opposition outlets.

In a cabinet meeting in April, Erdoğan vowed that Turkey would be freed from both the coronavirus pandemic and the viruses caused by media and politics. 

In a RTÜK first, Tele 1 and Halk TV will broadcast a black screen for five days, Taşçı said, noting that not even the broadcasting of documentaries or music would be allowed.

Tele 1 reported the ban followed an investigation launched into the station over statements critical of Abdulhamit II, the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Halk TV reported that a programme hosted by Turkman journalist and political scientist Hüsnü Mahalli prompted the ban. 

The ban comes as Erdoğan on Wednesday announced tighter government control over social media following alleged insults targeting family members on Twitter.

The RTÜK penalty has been met with criticism in Turkey and abroad.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party deputy Eren Erdem called the move an attempt to silence free media.

“All of the TV stations they channel millions of lira into don’t have the ratings of these two independent stations,‘’ said Erdem, who is also a programmer for Halk TV.

The International Press Institute (IPI) on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the suspension against Halk TV and Tele 1.

“RTÜK must stop acting as a govt tool and start acting like an impartial media monitor that upholds the right to #pressfreedom,” the IPI said.

RTÜK, accused by critics of turning a blind eye to complaints against pro-government channels, has on multiple occasions imposed administrative fines and broadcasting bans on both networks.