Turkey watchdog fines three outlets for quake coverage

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Turkey’s media watchdog fined three broadcasters on Wednesday for their coverage of the earthquake that rocked the country’s south, killing more than 42,000 people, an opposition-nominated member of the watchdog said.

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Halk TV, Tele 1 and FOX were all handed fines, calculated based on their revenues for the month preceding the infractions, for reporting shortcomings in the government’s earthquake response.

The three channels are known for editorial lines critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Halk TV is strongly aligned with the CHP party, Turkey’s main opposition.

Erdogan unleashed a sweeping crackdown after a failed coup in 2016 that placed much of the media under the control of the government and its business allies.

He will seek re-election this year, and his administration’s handling of the deadly quake which has claimed more than 42,000 lives in Turkey has become a key battleground issue.

The main opposition leader, who is running neck and neck with Erdogan in opinion polls, has spearheaded the criticism.

Turkey in October passed a law punishing the dissemination of “fake news” by up to three years in prison.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranked 149 out of 180 for press freedom in 2022.

Halk TV and Tele 1 were fined five percent of their January revenues, Ilhan Tasci, a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council watchdog’s board who was nominated by opposition parties, wrote on Twitter.

They were also ordered to suspend one of their daily programs for five days.

Halk TV and FOX TV were also fined three percent of their January turnover for separate infractions, he added.

“All these penalties were based on comments and news after the earthquake,” he wrote.

“We live in a time when reporting is considered a crime.”

The head of Turkey’s Journalists’ Association, Nazmi Bilgin, called the decisions a “crime” against viewers, and described the watchdog as a “censorship board”.

“With these penalties, the criminal members of (the watchdog), who disregard the right of the public to receive news and the right of the earthquake victims to be informed, commit a great crime,” he said.

The editor-in-chief of Tele 1 Merdan Yanardag called the penalties a “complete disgrace”.

Many destitute families have lashed out at the government for failing to reach them and save their loved ones from the rubble of the earthquake.

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