November 14, 2015

Critical TV channels stop broadcast in latest blow to media freedom in Turkey

The state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) dropped a total of 13 TV and radio channels including Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV, S Haber and Radio Cihan that are critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as of Saturday 12 a.m., in a severe blow to already deteriorating press freedoms in Turkey.

The broadcast of the TV stations, which are known for their critical stance toward the government, were halted by Türksat because of a “legal obligation” to the order of the prosecutor's office, based on the suspicion that the channels support a terrorist organization.
Media reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of an investigation into media outlets inspired by the faith-based Gülen movement -- also known as Hizmet.

Among the TV and radio stations removed are: Samanyolu Europe, Ebru TV, Mehtap TV, Samanyolu Haber, Irmak TV, Yumurcak TV, Dünya TV, MC TV, Samanyolu Africa, Tuna Shopping TV, Burç FM, Samanyolu Haber Radio, Mehtap Radio and Radyo Cihan.

On its official Twitter account, Samanyolu group vowed to challenge this “arbitrary” decision by Türksat and to pursue its rights both at domestic and international courts.

The move comes in spite of a court decision to ask Türksat to submit a defense for its decision to remove the channels.

The Anlara 6th Administrative Court decided on Friday to request Türksat to submit “documents, information and legal evidence” it has to the court in order to justify the ban to the court. The court urged Türksat to submit its defense within the required legal period.

Samanyolu Broadcasting Group lawyer Fikret Duran earlier said Türksat cannot implement its decision to stop broadcast of the channels until it submits its defense to the court. Duran said Türksat is obliged to explain its decision to the court on legal grounds.

Duran said in comments after the channels were dropped from Türksat that the move is an open assault on people’s freedom of information as well as the right to property. Stating that Türksat officials committed the crimes of abuse of power, preventing people’s using their freedom of belief and the right to labor.

In a similar vein, in early October, the Digiturk satellite network announced that it had stopped broadcasting the aforementioned TV stations following a request from a prosecutor.

Turkcell TV+, an online TV streaming service from Internet provider Superonline, and Tivibu, another service provided by TTNet, previously announced they too had removed the stations in question from their platforms by the order of the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office, on the suspicion that the channels were supporting a terrorist organization.

Even children's channel Yumurcak TV was removed, prompting anger from some users, who were perplexed at the idea that a children's TV station could support terrorism.

The Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, Shaber and Samanyolu channels have become targets of the government's crackdown for being seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement, a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames the movement for instigating the massive corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, which involved ministers in his government and even some of his family members.

Although Türksat had also decided to drop Bugün TV and Kanaltürk last month and had relayed a message to the channels giving them a month to remove their platforms from its infrastructure, the decision was not implemented after the two channels were seized by the government in a highly controversial move late last month. On Oct. 27, an Ankara court ordered the takeover of Koza İpek Holding, which owns the İpek Media Group, appointing trustees to run its five critical media outlets -- Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, the Bugün daily, the Millet daily and the Kanaltürk radio station. The outlets, owned by businessman Akın İpek, were taken over based on an expert opinion that their financial records were implausibly clean.

The channels and the dailies turned into government mouthpieces within a short period of time after their seizure, with the trustees sacking dozens of journalists and appointing new pro-government ones to replace them.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 15 November 2015, Sunday