Thursday, June 10, 2010

Consolidating Control Over the Media? . . .

The AKP-led drafted bıll to restructure Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) has raised new questions about the government's relations with the media, especially amid skeptics of the AKP's intentions, many of whom are determined that the conservative-oriented party is bent on gaining control over the media. The more outlandish arguments of an insiduous, deep-reaching plot to dominate media institutions aside, provisions in the bill that would increase the RTUK's already significant supervisory powers raise real questions about the freedom of broadcast media in Turkey.

Introduced to parliament in April (see April 10 post), the bill was hotly debated in the Turkish parliament this week amid accusations from the opposition that its intentions were to further consolidate AKP control over the Turkish media. Given the Dogan tax fine and some very large purchases of media conglomerates by figures close to the party in recent years, the issue is particularly sensitive. The opposition CHP and MHP demanded fuller consideration of the bill, which was eventually sent back to a parliamentary committee for further review.

In addition to the CHP painiting the effort as a further attempt by the AKP to gain control over the media, CHP officials also claimed the bill would give PRime Minister Erdogan the power to prevent specific people with whom he disagrees from broadcasting. According to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the bill is geared toward restructuring RTUK so as to allow for more foreign direct investment in Turkish media and better supervision of media institutions.

For its part, the AKP insists the bill is line with efforts to harmonize Turkey's media law with that of the European Union, and that there is nothing deeply nefarious in its design.

Yet, just what do these increased powers of supervision entail? Given recent statements by RTUK officials, which opposition figures claim the AKP has thoroughly infiltrated, as well as the remarks of some AKP officials on programming they consider offensive or corrupting (see here Family and Women's Affairs Minister Aliye Kavaf's remarks on the popular televison series Ask-i Memnu).

Also relevant are questions as to how foreign direct investment in Turkey's media will work, and if the business-related aspects of the law would give pro-government cadres more control of who owns what and at what price.

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