Turkey revokes radio station’s license for discussing ‘Armenian genocide’

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Turkey revokes radio station's license for discussing 'Armenian genocide'

Turkey’s media regulator, Radio and Television Supreme Council, known as RTUK, withdrew an independent radio station’s broadcast license on Wednesday over the mention of “Armenian genocide” on air.

RTUK’s decision to revoke the license of Acik Radyo, an Istanbul-based radio station that began broadcasting in 1995, came after a guest on April 24 made a statement on the Armenian genocide.

“[Today is] the 109th anniversary, the anniversary of the massacres of Armenians, that is, the deportations and massacres that took place in the Ottoman lands, the massacres that are termed genocide,” the guest said on air. “This year, the commemoration of the Armenian genocide was also banned, you know.”

April 24 is a day of commemoration for the World War I-era massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey.

U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged April 24 as a commemoration day of the Armenian genocide for the first time in 2021.

Turkey denies the existence of the Armenian genocide or any deliberate plan to wipe out the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Fines, suspensions

In May, RTUK imposed an administrative fine of about $5,800 (189,283 liras) on the station and a suspension of its broadcasts, June 10-14, over the guest’s statement.

The regulator said Acik Radyo’s broadcast on April 24 violated the law by inciting public hatred and enmity by making distinctions “based on race, language, religion, gender, class, region, and religious order.”

In a meeting on Wednesday, most RTUK members voted to revoke the license of Acik Radyo because it did not comply with the previous ruling that imposed the fine and programming suspension.

Acik Radyo said it had requested to pay the administrative fine in installments and that after the request was approved, it paid the first installment.

“It is thus clear that we have no intention to resist the law or to violate this decision through unlawful means and that we are trying to follow a well-intentioned course,” Acik Radyo wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

The station said it finds the regulator’s ruling unacceptable and emphasized that the guest’s statement “indisputably stands within the scope of freedom of expression and press freedom.”

Responding to a VOA request for comment, RTUK directed VOA to fill out a form providing personal information such as address and identity card number.

Station to appeal ruling

After receiving the ruling, the outlet said it will appeal the regulator’s decision.

“Açık Radyo, as it has done for the past 30 years, will continue its broadcast with the same responsibility and in line with the same universal principles of journalism,” the station noted.

Ilhan Tasci, an RTUK member who voted against revoking Acik Radyo’s license, said the outlet risks closing after receiving the notification.

Tasci said that the radio’s technical devices will be sealed three days after receiving RTUK’s notification unless a court rules against the decision to revoke its license.

Similar cases, reactions

In Turkey, there have been legal cases over the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide through the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 301, which defines the crime of “denigrating Turkishness.”

On Wednesday, journalists Haluk Kalafat and Elif Akgul were acquitted of the “denigrating Turkishness” charge in a case that started with a complaint in 2019, accusing the journalists of “Armenian genocide propaganda.”

The indictment, prepared in 2022, concerned six news stories related to the Armenian genocide, reported by Kalafat and Akgul.

Erol Onderoglu, Reporters Without Borders’ Turkey representative, says there have been acquittals in Armenian genocide-related cases and that RTUK’s ruling to revoke Acik Radyo conflicts with such court decisions.

“RTÜK’s view of itself as being above the court and eyeing to revoke a radio station’s license is a completely anti-democratic approach that disregards democracy and pluralist discourse,” Onderoglu told VOA.

“Here, there is a problem that RTÜK is open to political interventions and that politics has a significant presence in the selection of board members,” Onderoglu added.

Political parties nominate RTUK’s nine members in proportion to their representation in the parliament. Currently, the AKP and the allied Nationalist Movement Party hold the majority.

Several journalism organizations and press freedom advocates also find RTUK’s decision anti-democratic and against freedom of expression.

“While the radio has expressed its legal objections and the process continues, making such a decision means muting one of the handful of channels in Turkey where we can breathe,” Yetvart Danzikyan, the editor-in-chief of weekly Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, wrote in his column.

“This mistake must be reversed as soon as possible. Açık Radyo must remain open and continue to make the voice of democracy and equality heard,” he added.

‘A black mark’

The Turkish Journalists Association called RTUK’s decision “a black mark in the history of Turkish media.”

“RTÜK, which should protect the plurality of voices in society, citizens’ right to receive information, and the public interest, has again damaged press freedom by revoking the license of Açık Radyo. The duty of journalists and media outlets is not to please the government with their news,” the association wrote in a statement.

“In a democratic society, this decision, which is a disproportionate and excessive punishment by RTÜK, will be overturned by the judiciary,” the association added.

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