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Turkey channel shuts down while live on air

ISTANBUL: Employees of prominent pro-Kurdish television channel IMC TV react as Turkish police raided the headquarters of the TV channel. - AFP
ISTANBUL: Employees of prominent pro-Kurdish television channel IMC TV react as Turkish police raided the headquarters of the TV channel. – AFP

ISTANBUL: When the police finally came, the staff of IMC TV in Istanbul were ready. Dozens of employees crowded behind the anchor’s news desk, applauding their management and shouting “free media won’t be silenced.” Then as technical experts sent by the authorities fiddled with wires in the backroom, broadcasts were cut and screens went blank.

The channel-which had a pro-Kurdish stance but also engaged with women’s and environmental issues-was the latest casualty of what activists see as a growing crackdown against the media in Turkey in the wake of the July 15 failed coup. The government insists media remains free and diverse in Turkey, accusing outlets like IMC TV of promoting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), claims the channel denies.

“Why are you covering your face? Long live hell for the cruel!” the channel’s general manager, Eyup Burc told the police live on air as they raided the channel. “We are against all coups and we are against those who stage their own coup out of a coup!” he said. The channel was one of a dozen TV outlets ordered closed last week under Turkey’s controversial state of emergency imposed in the wake of the coup and extended by another three months from October 19.

Rather than being accused of supporting the July 15 coup, they are charged with broadcasting “terror propaganda” for the outlawed PKK which has fought a bloody 32-year insurgency against the Turkish state. This appears to have confirmed fears of activists, who have repeatedly warned that the state of emergency could be used for crackdowns beyond the coup suspects.

‘Could come any time’

“There are no channels left to broadcast this speech!” the leader of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas told a meeting of his party in the parliament. “They believe that the people will support the government when they are not informed of the news. They are deceived again,” he added. Despite the closure order, IMC TV had defiantly remained on air until Tuesday through the Hotbird satellite and internet broadcasts, with staff expecting the police to arrive at any moment.

“Police may come to our door any time and put a complete halt to our broadcasts,” Banu Guven, presenter at IMC, told AFP a day before the police raid. The television channel has attracted a number of journalists from the mainstream media like Guven, who worked for 14 years at the widely-followed NTV. “We do not threaten anyone’s security. On the contrary we are a channel that defends people’s right to receive news,” Guven said. Several other broadcasters, including pro-Kurdish Ozgur Radyo and the strongly leftist Hayatin Sesi TV, were also raided and shut down on Monday.

Dilek Gul, another IMC journalist, said her television station did not do anything wrong. “Dramatic shutdowns of media outlets have become a familiar drama in Turkey,” she told AFP. Earlier this year, Turkish police used water cannon to take over the headquarters of the Zaman newspaper linked to the cleric Fethullah Gulen who was later blamed for the coup. However there has been no suggestion IMC is linked to Gulen.

‘Opposition pressured’

The closure has come at a time of growing concerns for press freedom in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with several prominent journalists under arrest following the coup. “All form of opposition in Turkey is now deprived of its voice,” Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative of press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told AFP.

Onderoglu was himself detained for 10 days in June for “terror propaganda” after he guest-edited a pro-Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Gundem. The government insists that Turkey has vibrant opposition media. Anti-Erdogan columnists still write in some mainstream media like the Hurriyet daily. Officials argue no other Turkish government has done more for Kurdish media, pointing to the setting up of the country’s first state-run Kurdish TV, TRT Kurdi. But Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Ugur Guc, head of the Turkish Journalists’ Union, said the government was using the coup as a pretext to “pressure all the opposition and socialist quarters.” He said: “The coup failed but a counter coup is in place.” – AFP

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