If anyone these days cares to measure the state of journalism and its role in informing the Turkish public at the critical juncture of the election, a look into the row involving the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) should be sufficient.
Along with the semi-official Anatolia news agency, Turkey’s publicly financed broadcaster seems to have secured its position as the full-scale mouthpiece of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The recent shouting match and the vote at the state regulatory body, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK), reveals how the government maximized its control over the vast TRT network, as part of its campaign for a power grab.
It was Selahattin Demirtaş, presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who raised the alarm. He said that his main rival, Erdoğan, appeared on air for a total of 305 minutes on TRT Türk, while he and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), were completely censored.
According to Demirtaş, the main channel of the public broadcaster, TRT 1, has so far devoted 24 minutes to Erdoğan, two minutes to İhsanoğlu and none to him. He said the news channel TRT Haber broadcast 204 minutes of the prime minister, 80 seconds of İhsanoğlu and 45 seconds of him.
Article 5 of the TRT Law states the corporation is obliged to “produce sufficient broadcasts on subjects of interest to the public in order to enable the healthy and free development of public opinion; produce broadcasts that are impartial; and should not be used as an instrument for the interests of a political party, group, interest group, belief or idea.”
When the issue was brought to the RTÜK, the discussion between the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-affiliated members and the others turned into an ugly shouting match. At the end, the RTÜK voted by a majority of AKP members that the TRT had no bias.
Fierce partisanship blocking journalism is nothing new. The TRT’s test case had been under exposure already during the March 30 elections, when its enormous pro-government stance had led to shocking reports and RTÜK for the first time in its history delivering a warning to the TRT.