Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle is set to close its Turkey office Tuesday after Ankara declined to extend its operating license, a move condemned by media rights groups.
The case shows the pressure that Ankara is putting on foreign media to make it harder for them to work in the country, some analysts say.
Authorities had already blocked access to the Turkish-language websites of DW and VOA last year when the broadcasters refused to comply with license requirements that they said amounted to censorship.
In the case of DW, the broadcaster says the Ministry of Industry and Technology informed it on March 7 that they would not extend the operating license of DW Turkish because it had failed to “choose its field of activity correctly.” There was no explanation of what this meant, the broadcaster said.
The broadcaster’s director was cited in reports as saying they had not been informed of errors in the application and that DW had not changed the way it operates in Turkey since the last time the paperwork was renewed.
DW has said it is considering legal steps over the decision, which will affect how the broadcaster can hire staff, with employees being cut off from retirement and other benefits.
Local reports say more than 10 journalists will now work on a freelance basis so that DW Turkish can keep reporting on events inside the country.
Media watchdogs have noted the timing of the decision comes just weeks before presidential and parliamentary elections.
Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator for the Vienna-based International Press Institute, said the exit of DW represented the latest attempt by the government to muzzle foreign media.
“We expect that the crackdown [on foreign media] will only intensify before elections in May,” she told VOA.
“This stems from this government’s attempts to try to push out the foreign media. They can control the local media. The foreign media were being protected by their own [organizations],” Akyavas said.
VOA emailed the Turkish government’s directorate of communications for comment but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Erkan Arikan, director of Turkish services for DW, was not available to speak with VOA before publication. Other journalists working for the broadcaster declined VOA’s interview requests.
DW and other foreign broadcasters have come under pressure from Turkish authorities for over a year.
In February 2022, Turkey’s media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), ordered DW, VOA and Euronews to obtain broadcast licenses.
DW and VOA refused, citing concerns that the new licensing regulation gave RTÜK broad powers over online content.
Because of their refusal to comply, RTÜK in late June blocked access to the Turkish editions of DW and VOA.
At the time, Peter Limbourg, DW general director, said his agency refused to apply for a Turkish license because it would harm independent broadcasting.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content RTÜK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster,” he said in a statement published by DW in July last year.
Media commentators see the actions as an effort by Turkey to control domestic and foreign media outlets.
Turkey has a poor media freedom record, with Reporters Without Borders ranking it 149 out of 180 countries where 1 denotes the best environment for journalism.
In its country analysis, the media watchdog said that with around 90% of the country’s media now under government control, the public has come to rely on foreign media such as DW for insight into politics and the economy.
Özgür Ögret, the Turkey representative for New York’s Committee to Protect Journalists, said that move against DW meant Turkish people were prevented from seeing independent reporting of their own country.
“Denying DW’s license serves only to disrupt the broadcaster’s activities and deny Turkish citizens critical, independent reporting as elections approach,” he said in a statement.
An investigation by the news agency Reuters published last year said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had bent the country’s media to his will.
“The Turkish mainstream media, once a livelier clash of ideas, has become a tight chain of command of government-approved headlines, front pages, and topics of TV debate,” the report said.
The report, based on interviews with people in the media, government and regulatory bodies, said the media industry in Turkey “has fallen in line with other formerly independent institutions that Erdogan has bent to his will.”
Reuters cited the head of Turkey’s communications directorate as saying that while he “occasionally briefs editors and reporters,” he had never done so in a way that could be “viewed as infringing on the editorial independence of news organizations or violating the freedom of the press.”
Directives and regulations on foreign media are tactics used by several authoritarian countries to try to control or retaliate against foreign media.
China has been accused of delaying or refusing to renew journalist visas to retaliate against critical reporting.
Spanish daily newspaper ABC had its website blocked in China, along with other foreign media organizations, after it published a critical report of the Chinese government, claiming its reporters had been victims of state intimidation in March 2022.
In Cuba last year, reporters at the Spanish state news agency EFE waited for months for accreditation from Havana, which nearly resulted in EFE withdrawing from the country.
Some information for this article came from Reuters.