Investigating Turkish journalists for publishing “false news” from the earthquake zone

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits the quake-stricken Hatay province.AFP photo

The BBC spoke to a freelance journalist who had to come to the police station due to a possible breach of the Misinformation Act. Turkish journalists have been dealing with a new and controversial law since October last year. This makes it possible for reporters to be arrested for sharing what the government considers disinformation.

According to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, such a law is necessary to protect the population. However, observers argue that press freedom in Turkey is being curtailed. Violation of the law can result in a prison sentence of three years.

Erdogan warned during his visit to the disaster area this month that those who spread “false news” and “cause social chaos” will be pursued. Freelance editor Mir Ali Kocher, who said he was very cautious in his critical coverage of victim assistance, told the BBC he had been questioned by police for allegedly spreading fake news. The journalist works for various news websites affiliated with the opposition.

Reporters Without Borders, an organization that works for press freedom, calls the investigation into Cougar’s case “ridiculous”. The Turkish authorities do not want to answer the BBC’s questions. Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have killed more than 50,000 people.

Transmitters fined

Earlier, three TV channels were fined for publishing the flaws of the Turkish government. Halk TV, Tele 1 and Fox have been fined by Turkey’s media regulator RTUK. In addition, Halk TV and Tele 1 were banned from broadcasting some of their daily programmes, for five days. The three channels are known for their generally critical stance towards Erdogan. Halk TV maintains ties with the largest opposition party, the CHP. In recent weeks, this party has been highly critical of the emergency aid and has accused the Erdogan government of insufficient supervision of compliance with building codes, which has resulted in many buildings being unable to withstand earthquakes.

After the earthquakes, emergency aid, which was said to have started slowly, was regularly criticized on television. Critics felt that the Turkish government was unprepared for such a disaster, despite major earthquakes that had happened before.

Social media

Twitter was also blocked for several hours a few days after the disaster. This ban was quickly lifted after much criticism, as Twitter was an important communication tool for rescuers. Victims trapped under the rubble also shared their location via Twitter so they could be rescued.

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