Shuttered TV channel highlights Turkey’s lack of space for critical voices

Closure of outlet comes amid increased pressure against social media and NGOs as Turkish government attempts to squeeze out the opposition.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a protest against the recent killings of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the US embassy move to Jerusalem, in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a protest against the recent killings of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the US embassy move to Jerusalem, in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
A reporter with a shuttered Turkish television channel says its closure is the latest example of the government’s pressure on the press and attempt to create a monolithic media landscape.
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Olay TV was owned by a former Turkish politician, Cavit Caglar, and shut itself down on Friday, 26 days after it first went on the air.
One of the channel’s reporters, Alican Uludağ, told The Media Line that the scrutiny was especially strong on reports covering alleged corruption and human rights violations by government officials.
“Different voices are not tolerated. … The government wants to intimidate the media that publish critical [reports],” Uludağ wrote in a message to The Media Line.
“Olay TV was also closed under pressure for its independent and impartial broadcasting,” he said.
However, the reason behind the move was contested within the news organization.
Caglar said the shutdown was due to the channel’s promotion of pro-Kurdish opposition views while the channel’s editor blamed pressure from the government.
In response to a request for comment, the Turkish government referred The Media Line to Caglar’s statement on the closure.
Caglar said in the statement that he has been active in center-right politics and did not approve of coverage of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
He added that the channel was not being impartial and that he wanted to create more balance of the channel’s coverage, but his business partner rejected the idea, so he left the network.
Most of the country’s news media is allied with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the opposition gets little air time with the HDP losing out the most.
Muzaffer Senel, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul’s Şehir University, told The Media Line that Olay TV quickly got a reputation as an independent news channel with high-quality reporting.
“They opened a space for the opposition, especially the HDP,” said Senel.
“The Erdoğan administration has very little tolerance, maybe no tolerance, for critical voices in Turkish media,” she also said.
The government accuses the pro-Kurdish HDP of having links to the outlawed Kurdish militia, the PKK, which the party denies.
The shutdown of Olay TV comes amid an attempt to increase control of other critical voices.
On Sunday, Turkey’s parliament passed a law allowing the government to stop the work of NGOs.
Earlier this month, YouTube agreed to appoint a local representative to Turkey, a requirement under the country’s social media law which also allows the government to remove posts from social media platforms.
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Turkey representative, Ozgur Ogret, told The Media Line that press freedom has become progressively worse in the country every year since the failed coup in 2016.
In the aftermath of the putsch, hundreds of thousands of people, including journalists and opposition politicians, were put behind bars.
Ogret said the pandemic has increased the risks for journalists due to the country’s overcrowded prisons.
“Journalists in Turkey have to be more careful not to be arrested during the pandemic which would put them in an even more vulnerable position than ever. Practicing journalism should not result in prison sentences and it definitely should not be a potential death sentence,” he said.
Senel said the widespread crackdown on critical voices is an attempt by Erdoğan to lay the groundwork for his party to dominate a future election.
“He’s creating a very narrow space for the opposition,” Senel said. “Now, we’re going to be a controlled society.”
While domestic issues were getting heated, Erdogan was seeking to cool down ones abroad and striking a more conciliatory tone to the country’s adversaries amid heightened tensions over the eastern Mediterranean.
Relations are strained with regional rivals who are working together to export gas to Europe through the Mediterranean, independent of Ankara.
On Friday, Erdogan said that he wanted to improve ties with Israel, pointing out that they already share intelligence.
Senel says the Turkish president wanted to combat what he thought was a containment policy against Turkey by neighboring countries, and Israel was the best option because the two countries have a history of bilateral relations.
“We had no other option … we need to create a friend in the east Mediterranean,” Senel said.
Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul, said there is a chance for a significant improvement in relations with Israel and agreed that Erdoğan is concerned about being contained in the region.
Esen told The Media Line that the Turkish president is feeling the pressure of the country’s worsening finances coupled with an emboldened opposition which won the Istanbul and Ankara mayoral elections last year.
In response, Erdoğan is making overtures to other countries to try to improve Turkey’s standing, Esen said.
“He’s trying to find a way out of this mess and always the easy way is to generate economic growth,” he concluded.