February 24, 2015

Ankara court lifts RTÜK fine on Samanyolu TV

The Ankara 17th Administrative Court on Tuesday reversed a decision by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) to fine the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group for a news bulletin it had aired, ruling that Samanyolu TV had broadcast the news in order to inform the public.

The news bulletin, aired on Samanyolu TV on March 3, 2014, featured a wiretapped conversation between ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Nurettin Canikli and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's personal secretary Hasan Doğan. The recording reportedly featured Canikli telling Doğan over the phone how members of the AK Party had prevented reports from the Court of Accounts from reaching Parliament. According to the broadcast, Erdoğan had given the order to Canikli to prevent the reports from being read in Parliament. Doğan was heard telling Canikli, “We [the AK Party] will be defeated completely if the reports reach [Parliament]."

Following the broadcast of the news bulletin, RTÜK decided to fine Samanyolu TL 12,353 on May 7, 2014, saying the news bulletin had been aimed at damaging the reputation and privacy of the individuals involved and had violated a regulation regarding impartiality in the news. After the RTÜK decision, Samanyolu appealed to the Ankara 17th Administrative Court in May 2014 for the reversal of the decision.

The Ankara 17th Administrative Court ruling stated that the story, no matter how it had been acquired, could be considered a legitimate piece of news in any country that followed the principles of the rule of law. “Broadcasting news about a wiretapped conversation that was already in circulation on the Internet at the time of its airing is a basic example of freedom of expression and information. … Although the conversation was illegally wiretapped, impeding its broadcast is not warranted, and it cannot be used as evidence in court due to the illegal manner of its acquisition,” the court stated.

"Therefore, the [RTÜK] decision, having the characteristics of censorship and the violation of freedom of information and freedom of the press … is not in accordance with the principles of a democratic state in which media is a prerequisite," the court ruling noted.

The Samanyolu Broadcasting Group has been subjected to a series of penalties and punishments since serious corruption allegations implicating Cabinet members and other key figures close to the ruling AK Party emerged on Dec. 17, 2013. Since then, the Samanyolu TV and Samanyolu Haber TV networks have been levied a total 145 administrative fines totaling TL 4 million. RTÜK has also punished the network by temporarily suspending a number of its programs.

Samanyolu Broadcasting Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca has been in jail since Dec. 14 as the result of a crackdown against media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The crackdown also saw Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı taken into custody. Dumanlı was subsequently released.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 February 2015, Tuesday