February 7, 2020

Turkey urged to lift state advertising ban on two independent newspapers

Crédits : DR
Reporters without Borders (RSF), the International Press Institute (IPI), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), called yesterday for an immediate end to the ban on state advertising that the Turkish authorities have imposed on two independent newspapers, Evrensel and BirGün.

The two newspapers are part of a dwindling club of media that have stubbornly resisted pressure to curb their independent journalism and readiness to criticize the authorities. Since September they have been subjected to indefinite bans imposed by Basin Ilan Kurumu (BIK), the Turkish agency responsible for allocating state advertising. 

If the bans remain in place for six months (until March), the two newspapers will be formally excluded and unable to reapply for funding via state advertising for three years. Such a result would be catastrophic for the economic viability of the newspapers.  

When a delegation of representatives from RSF, IPI, EFJ, CPJ and TGS met yesterday with BIK director Rıdvan Duran, he told them that Evrensel and BirGün had breached technical regulations regarding the crediting and sourcing of articles, and their distribution. Duran insisted that the BIK’s ban was not related to their editorial line and that both newspapers still had time to correct their practice to be once more eligible for state advertising funds. 

Evrensel has been banned since 18 September, accused of bulk buying that distorts its distribution figures, which the BIK uses to set advertising levels. Evrensel is a small leftist newspaper, and some of its supporters place group orders of editions before distributing them through their local networks. It is a practice that Evrensel has used ever since 2011. 

Last September, the BIK ruled that this practice constituted bulk purchasing and contrary to its regulations. The BIK added that when municipalities or travel companies purchase papers in bulk for distribution to employees or passengers, they are registered at no more than 50 copies even when the numbers distributed are in their hundreds. 

An indefinite ban was placed on BirGün at the beginning of September. The initial charge was a failure to submit distribution figures in time. When that was resolved, the BIK added a new charge, namely that BirGün had failed to properly credit authors or sources in its articles. 

Short-term bans were also placed on two other newspapers, Cumhuriyet and Yeni Asya, in September on the grounds that they had published reports that “humiliated the Turkish nation.” While these two  newspapers do not currently face the threat of a permanent ban, the delegation expressed concern that the power to impose these bans could be misused to stifle legitimate criticism. 

Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.