ISTANBUL (AP) – Press freedom groups expressed concern on Friday over comments by Turkish officials on possible legislation to regulate foreign media funding and the spread of false information, saying it could restrict more independent journalism in Turkey.
A senior aide to the Turkish president said this week that the country needs regulations on media that receive foreign funds. Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said foreign media funding deserves close scrutiny when it comes from countries that “openly express their intentions and efforts to shape Turkish politics.”
“We will not allow Fifth Column activities in new forms,” Altun said.
Turkish journalists returning from a state visit to northern Cyprus this week reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party plans to examine later this year whether the country needs a law against the dissemination of falsehoods. information. They quoted Erdogan as saying that Turkey should fight the “terror of lies”.
The comments came as a negative social media campaign targeted independent media outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir, for receiving funding from the US-based Chrest Foundation. The private philanthropy group has also funded non-profit organizations and foundations working in the fields of arts, culture and diversity.
Media Freedom Rapid Response and 23 allied groups said in a statement Friday that foreign funding was a key source of revenue for independent media in Turkey as they face pressure from the government. Traditional Turkish media are mainly run by companies close to the government.
“Taken together, these statements give the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country,” the statement said.
But Altun said similar regulations apply in the United States, where media funded by foreign countries must provide information about their activities to U.S. authorities. Turkish state-funded English-language broadcaster TRT World was required to register as a foreign agent last year under the Foreign Agent Registration Act for Lobbyists and Relationship Firms public bodies working for foreign governments. TRT then said it does new satherings and reporting like any other international media.
Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom rankings ranked Turkey 153rd out of 180 countries in 2021. According to the Turkish Journalists Union, 38 media professionals remain behind bars.
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