Turkish elections: Erdogan and his AKP tighten grip on media, DW closes Turkey office

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle shut down its Turkey office after losing its operating licence, primarily because of the close race ahead of the 14 May elections. Government pressure has intensified after the 6 February earthquake. Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. In the 2018 elections, Erdogan got 181 hours of coverage on state television; his main rival, 16.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Press freedom in Turkey is increasingly restricted as the date of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections approaches (14 May). The latest media outlet to be targeted is Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW).

On the ground, the outcome of the elections remains an open question, as incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) are pitted in a tight race against a united front, the so-called "Table of Six", which includes the main opposition parties, plus the de facto support of the main Kurdish party, the HDP, which will not run its own candidate, a move that might prove decisive.

The government’s first response to  possible defeat, or at least its reaction to an uncertain outcome, is to control the press. DW, one of the main foreign media outlets providing Turkish-language news, will close its office next week after it refused to  government refused to renew its operating permit.

For DW Turkish Publications Manager Erkan Arikan, the move is a “blow to the freedom of the press,” while media freedom groups condemned the development. For its part, DW issued a statement saying that it was considering legal action over the decision not to extend its permit. 

“We suspect that the government is putting pressure on the related authorities in order to make our journalistic activities in Turkey even harder,” Arikan said. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists also called on the Turkish government to renew DW’s permit and halt efforts to hamper journalism.

“Denying DW’s license serves only to disrupt the broadcaster’s activities and deny Turkish citizens critical, independent reporting as elections approach,” the Committee’s Turkey representative Ozgur Ogret said. 

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), about 90 per cent of Turkey's national media is now under government control. For independent news, until recently, the public could turn to international networks or foreign sources like DW in Turkish, Voice of America or BBC.

Over the past few elections, a certain pattern has emerged with the ruling AKP increasing its control over the media.

According to Ilhan Tasci, an opposition member of the Turkish broadcasting authority, over a 40-day period leading up to the 2018 presidential election Erdogan received 181 hours of coverage from state-run broadcaster TRT. His closest opponent got less than 16 hours. Fairness in media doesn’t seem to be at home in Turkey.

RSF ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its 2022 Press Freedom Index. At present, 33 journalists are languishing in a Turkish prison just for doing their job, including those who reported from the areas hit by the 6 February earthquake.

Foreign media are also subject to censorship; last year, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), the government media regulatory watchdog, gave notice to three international broadcasters, including DW, that they would require broadcasting licences or have their content blocked. DW refused, saying the request opened the door to preventive censorship.