Article 298 of the Constitution, which stipulates heavy fines and bans on TV stations during every election period in a blatant display of censorship, may be amended, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered changes to the article used to justify bans by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) that oversees elections.
The possible amendment was reported after the president met İlhan Yerlikaya, head of Turkey's television and radio watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), earlier this week. Yerlikaya and Erdoğan discussed bans on private-run TV channels during the meeting.
Planned amendments and regulations include establishing a clear distinction between the duties of the RTÜK and YSK on election broadcasts whose authority overlap, especially in terms of fines that amount to censorship. Private-run TV channels will not be bound by rules imposed on the state-run broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which is required to devote equal time to all political parties campaigning for elections. The amendments will pave the way for freedom of broadcast for TV channels during the election period.
The YSK was criticized for its blanket ban on TV channels that was imposed either on its own or based on reports by RTÜK, monitoring the coverage and examining its compliance with law. A Haber, a sister company of Daily Sabah, was among the TV channels facing a barrage of fines and bans by the YSK. This year, the channel was handed 239 orders to suspend broadcasting, as well as fines for its coverage of the two general elections. It was forced to broadcast documentaries in prime time and other time slots according to law.
The law, enacted one year after a military coup ousted the democratically elected government of Adnan Menderes, was long criticized for being anachronistic, especially after private-run TV channels emerged in the country in the 1990s. TV channel's freedom of broadcast, which is normally suspended as part of the fines for broadcasting shows, news stories and similar items containing obscenity and graphic violence, is often curbed prior to elections simply to grant more airtime to some politicians, something "unseen" in other countries, according to critics.
Lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had criticized the fines on TV channels, which apart from election bans, include fines over remarks of guests on TV shows. Bülent Turan, a lawmaker from the AK Party, said in an interview that the censorship by the YSK and RTÜK sought to "silence private TV channels." "The state cannot define the broadcasting policy of private enterprise. Those fines should be removed if we talk about media freedom in Turkey," he said. Mehmet Metiner, another lawmaker, said earlier the law was "a product of the coup regime" and "embarrassing." Metiner said it was wrong to restrain TV channels with a law "straight out of a militarized mindset," noting that it was up to private TV channels to decide on its broadcasting policy, "not the YSK or RTÜK."
Under new amendments, TV channels will be free to broadcast without any restrictions during the election period and will be allowed to have guests on their shows who advocate the policies of any single party. The only fines that will be issued will be for broadcasts deemed insulting to "national unity."
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