Turkey: Journalists prevented from covering wildfires

Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has threatened broadcasters with sanctions if they are found to have covered wildfires raging across the country in a way that could cause fear among the public. Since the 3 August declaration, journalists claim they are facing obstacles and attacks preventing them from doing their job properly. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), Disk Basin-Is and the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) in denouncing the attacks, and urges the authorities to protect media workers.

Raging fires burn close to the Kemerkoy Thermal Power Plant on August 4, 2021. Credits: YASIN AKGUL / AFP

UPDATED on 12.08.21

Since 28 July, Turkey has been facing massive wildfires, causing thousands of people to flee. While some point to government mismanagement in putting out the fires, news outlets covering the blazes are being threatened and attacked.

In a letter sent to several editors-in-chief, the Turkish media regulator (also known as the RTÜK) accused news outlets of not covering fires that have been successfully extinguished, and of focusing on “burning areas”. According to the letter, they would therefore violate the RTÜK’s ethical principles, notably Article 15 stipulating that outlets should avoid “broadcasts that may cause fear and anxiety among the public." The RTÜK added that heavy sanctions would be "inevitable" for the media concerned.

On 11 August, the RTÜK followed through on its threats and fined six news outlets for their coverage of the wildfires: KRT, Fox TV, Habertürk, Halk TV and TELE 1.

On 6 August, journalists from Halk TV were attacked while covering a fire live, and accused by the assailants of spreading false information. The same day, some journalists were refused accreditation when they tried to enter the Kemerköy thermal power plant, hit by the fire. With a list in hand, the authorities only allowed certain media to enter.

With fingers pointed at the government for its handling of the fires, critical media coverage is strongly suppressed. A Turkish prosecutor has opened an investigation into the hashtag #HelpTurkey, which is used on social networks to address the wildfires and the government's handling. The investigation aims to determine whether the hashtag is designed to create fear among the public and humiliate the government.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We are deeply concerned about the threats and attacks that news outlets are currently facing in Turkey. The authorities' attempt to censor the media is a serious violation of press freedom and the right to information. In these critical times, we call on the authorities to prosecute those responsible for the attacks and to allow journalists to do their work freely and safely.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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