ISTANBUL–Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned on Wednesday a decision by the Radio and TV Supreme Council (RTÜK) to ban the privately-owned TV station Habertürk from broadcasting one of its regular “One on One” discussion programs next month as a punishment for comments about the 1915 Armenian Genocide made by a guest on one of the previous programs.
The offending program, a debate between Yusuf Halaçoglu, the former president of the Turkish Institute of History (TTK) and Sevan Nisanyan, a journalist of Armenian origin, was broadcast on March 9, just a few days after the US House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide.” It was Nisanyan’s comments that upset the RTÜK.
In a decision taken on June 16 but not made public until 24 June, the RTÜK told Habertürk it cannot broadcast the “One on One” program scheduled for 13 July and will instead have to broadcast messages chosen by the RTÜK.
Reporters Without Borders said it regarded this disproportionate punishment as “censorship pure and simple” and called on the RTÜK to rescind the decision. “Free expression must prevail even when there are opposing opinions on sensitive issues,” the press freedom organization said. “It is part of the duties of journalists to organize debates in which different views are aired.”
“This decision has the effect of censoring an entire program because of one debate with which the RTÜK disagreed,” the statement said. “Reporters Without Borders can only regret that a regulatory body should assume it has the right to decide the terms in which an historical event can be discussed.”
A linguist, writer and reporter for the daily Taraf, Nisanyan criticized “the state policy that constantly tries to find an excuse to explain the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and their deportation.”
The RTÜK said Nisanyan had accused the Turkish Republic of being “shameless” and immoral” and that Habertürk had therefore violated article 4 of Law 3984 on radio and TV broadcasts, which forbids broadcasters to “exceed the limits of criticism and insult an institution.”
Reporters Without Borders said it viewed the article’s wording as “extremely vague,” allowing officials to have “too much leeway for subjective – usually ultraconservative – interpretations that prevent Turkish society from tackling vital issues.”