December 3, 2015

Top court rules RTÜK’s halting of broadcast violates freedom of expression

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) violated the freedom of expression of the owner of a radio station by halting its broadcasts on the grounds that it lacked the necessary permit from RTÜK.

The owner of the radio station, C.E., petitioned the Constitutional Court several years ago after the broadcasts of his radio station, which began in 1995 after obtaining the necessary permit from RTÜK, were interrupted in 2008. Following this interruption, RTÜK said the radio station cannot continue with its broadcasts because the permit it earlier received from RTÜK is invalid.

C.E. said he had not authorized a petition that was sent by the radio station to RTÜK announcing it would temporarily halt broadcasts, so he went to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that his right to freedom of expression was violated.

The court announced its reasoned decision in the case and ruled that freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by Article 26 of the Constitution, was violated in this case, adding that the freedom to spread one's views and freedom of the press are of crucial importance in a democracy.

The court said the actions of the state should be under the supervision of the press and the public just as much as they are under the judicial and administrative authorities in a democratic system, noting that press freedom is applies to everyone.

The top court's ruling may set a precedent for the cases of other media outlets that have been silenced in government-led moves due to their critical coverage.

Bugün TV, Kanaltürk and more than 10 other TV channels and radio stations operating under the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group have been targeted by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government due to their critical stance.

These news outlets were removed from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) infrastructure. Their screens went black, leading more than 1,000 journalists to become jobless.

The broadcast of the TV stations, which are known for their critical stance toward the AK Party government, were halted by Türksat because of a “legal obligation” to an order from a prosecutor's office, based on the suspicion that the channels support a terrorist organization.

Media have 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.

These media outlets have become targets of the government's crackdown because they are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the movement of instigating the massive corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, which implicated ministers in his government and even some of his family members, as part of a plot to overthrow the government.

Video footage from before a live interview with President Erdoğan earlier this year, released in October, showed Mustafa Varank, one of Erdoğan's advisers and a board member of Türksat, urging the relevant minister at the time to drop critical TV stations from the platform. Varank's remarks in the footage led to outrage at the political motivation behind Türksat's decision.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 November 2015, Thursday