Turkish TV Shut Down for Earthquake Coverage

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–A Turkish television station–ordered closed for a week over its earthquake coverage–struck back at the government on Wednesday accusing it of taking political revenge.

The government has been stung by unprecedented media criticism of its handling of the aftermath of last week’s massive quake in which more than 12,000 people officially died and 200,000 were left homeless.

The High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) late on Tuesday ordered Kanal 6–a particularly critical outlet–shut down for a week.

RTUK accused it of "encouraging violence–terror and ethnic discrimination and allowing broadcasting that could create feelings of hatred among the people."

But Kanal 6 General Coordinator Aydin Ozdalga said the closure was ordered because the government felt humiliated at the critical tone of the channel’s broadcasts.

"The real reason is that since the beginning…we said that this isn’t a minor earthquake so people should help–and that the government organization is not good enough to handle the situation," Ozdalga told Reuters Television.

He said Kanal 6 would go to court to fight the order–which takes effect on August 30–but he did not expect to stop the ban.

The main target for criticism is far-right Health Minister Osman Durmus–who allegedly spurned offers for help from Turkey’s traditional foes–Armenia and Greece.

But even the powerful military has come under fire for allegedly responding too late–and state bodies have been slammed for allowing the construction of the shoddy buildings that were the first to collapse.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit distanced himself from the RTUK decision–but he signaled his agreement by saying that the media should not be putting out reports that "upset people."

"Some newspapers and television channels are having a negative effect on morale," Anatolian news agency reported him as saying. "So RTUK might have made this decision in order to provide a deterrent. It is the duty of the media to express people’s criticisms–complaints and their misery–but they are going too far.

"At this time our people need a morale boost–so upsetting stories should be avoided."

Despite protestations that RTUK is independent of the government–Health Minister Durmus said in a speech in parliament late on Tuesday the board should take action against media provoking public anger.

Although RTUK often orders television blackouts–stations are usually only shut down for one or two days–and rarely for political reasons. The board mainly targets programs containing sex and violence.

Radikal newspaper was clear in its interpretation of the order when it headlined its report of the shutdown–"Censored."

That view was echoed by others.

Oktay Eksi–who heads the Turkish Press Council–said the closure order did nothing to prove Kanal 6 broadcasts were unacceptable–but did make it clear that RTUK answers to political masters.

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