Erdogan threatens to punish Turkish media over 'harmful content'

AFP , AP , Saturday 29 Jan 2022

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Turkish media with legal action over content "incompatible with national and moral values," in a move seen by critics as an attempt to stifle dissent.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
File Photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly,at U.N. headquarters, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. AP

In a circular posted Saturday on the Official Gazette, Erdogan said the decision aims to eliminate the harmful effects of television programs with foreign content that have been adapted in Turkey and to protect Turkish culture.

All precautions would be taken against productions that negatively affect the family, children and youth, through Turkish laws and the constitution. Children and youth will be protected from "messages conveyed through certain symbols,'' the decision stated, without elaborating.

Turkey's media watchdog, the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, already has wide-ranging powers, and can fine media or order temporary blackouts for television channels that are mostly critical of the government for violating Turkish values.

Ilhan Tasci, a member of the media watchdog from the main opposition party, called the move "the censorship circular'' and said it violates the constitution that promises to protect press freedom.

The majority of media companies in Turkey are already owned by businesses close to the conservative and nationalist government and closely follow government lines.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index of 2021. At least 34 media employees are currently behind bars, according to Turkey's Journalists Union.

Critics said it was another bid to crackdown on freedom of speech in the run-up to elections next year.

Faruk Bildirici, veteran journalist and media ombudsman, on Twitter, accused Erdogan of declaring a "state of emergency against the media".

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since Erdogan survived a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Inflation Anger

In an earlier decree on Saturday, Erdogan sacked state statistics agency chief Sait Erdal Dincer.

It was just the latest in a series of economic dismissals by Erdogan, who has fired three central bank governors since July 2019.

Erdogan has railed against high-interest rates, which he believes cause inflation -- the exact opposition of conventional economic thinking.

The 2021 inflation figure of 36.1 percent released by Dincer angered both the pro-government and opposition camps.

The opposition said the number was underreported, claiming that the real cost of living increases was at least twice as high.

Erdogan meanwhile reportedly criticised the statistics agency in private for publishing data that he felt overstated the scale of Turkey's economic malaise.

Dincer seemed to sense his impending fate.

"I sit in this office now, tomorrow it will be someone else," he said in an interview with the business newspaper Dunya earlier this month.

"Never mind who is the chairman. Can you imagine that hundreds of my colleagues could stomach or remain quiet about publishing an inflation rate very different from what they had established?"

Erdogan did not explain his decision to appoint Erhan Cetinkaya, who had served as vice-chair of Turkey's banking regulator, as the new state statistics chief.

"This will just increase concern about the reliability of the data, in addition to major concerns about economic policy settings," Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management said in a note to clients.

The agency is due to publish January's inflation data on February 3.

Justice Minister Also Sacked

Also on Saturday, Erdogan appointed a new justice minister, naming former deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag to replace veteran ruling party member Abdulhamit Gul who had been in the role since 2017.

Ali Babacan, former deputy prime minister who left the ruling AKP party and founded the Deva Party, took to Twitter to vent fury over the changes.

"The justice minister is being replaced, (statistics agency) TUIK chairman is being dismissed before the inflation data is published. Nobody knows why," he said.

"The authoritarian alliance... keeps on harming the country," he said, referring to the AKP and its nationalist partner MHP.

In December, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was turned away by security guards when he sought to enter the statistic agency's headquarters in Ankara.

He had accused the agency of "fabricating" the numbers to hide the true impact of the government's policies and slammed it as "no longer a state institution but a palace institution", in reference to Erdogan's presidential complex.

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