February 25, 2022 | Policy Brief

Erdogan Moves to Censor Western Media But not Russian Propaganda

February 25, 2022 | Policy Brief

Erdogan Moves to Censor Western Media But not Russian Propaganda

Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, posted three official notifications on February 21 threatening to block Western broadcasters Deutsche Welle (DW), Euronews, and Voice of America (VOA), unless they obtain internet broadcast licenses within 72 hours. Coming on the heels of Russia’s move to withdraw the press credentials of all DW staff and shutter the German public broadcaster’s Moscow studio, Ankara’s threat is facilitating the Kremlin’s campaign to silence Western media outlets.

RTUK’s move against these American, French, and German broadcasters marks the first time Turkey’s media regulator has targeted international media outlets using an authority the country’s Islamist-ultranationalist ruling coalition created with a 2019 regulation aimed at silencing critical online reporting. Ankara has not made similar demands from either Russia’s public broadcaster Sputnik, whose Turkish service has thrived while pushing the Kremlin’s propaganda unhindered, or Beijing’s propaganda channel, China Radio International.

Both DW and VOA pushed back against Ankara by declaring they will appeal RTUK’s threatened ban. Acting VOA Director Yolanda López said, “Voice of America’s independent journalism cannot be subject to this or any government’s control which results either in censorship or even the perception of it.” DW Director General Peter Limbourg warned that RTUK’s move “does not relate to formal aspects of broadcasting, but to the journalistic content itself.” He added that the 2019 regulation “gives the Turkish authorities the option to block the entire service based on individual, critical reports unless these reports are deleted. This would open up the possibility of censorship.”

While his government joins Russia’s campaign to silence Western media, Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to pose as a critic of Moscow’s aggression. On February 25, Erdogan criticized the West for “for being late in offering its concrete support” to Ukraine. “The EU and all the rest of the West have failed to display a decisive and serious stance,” he said. Yet Erdogan has failed to take any punitive measures against Russia and refused to join in any of the Western sanctions targeting the Kremlin.

This is not the first time that Erdogan has enabled Russia by playing a spoiler role within NATO. Ankara reportedly watered down the wording of NATO’s April 15, 2021 statement expressing solidarity with the United States over Russia’s cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies. Erdogan did the same to NATO’s April 22, 2021 statement voicing concern over Russian military intelligence’s blowing up of ammunition storage depots in the Czech Republic in 2014. Ankara also blocked a NATO defense plan for Poland and the Baltic states for over six months until June 2020, prompting The New York Times to label Turkey “NATO’s ‘Elephant in the Room.’”

In response to the Erdogan government’s targeting of Western broadcasters, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 23 tweeted, “A free and independent media is critical and must not be subjected to government control or censorship. Turkey has to respect and ensure freedom of expression.” The Biden administration, however, continued its radio silence over Turkey’s democratic backsliding and abysmal human rights record.

If Erdogan knows that there will be no real consequences, he will persist with his plans to block Western media outlets, whose independent reporting continues to embarrass him and his fellow autocrat Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the Biden administration wants to fulfil its promise of a human rights-centered foreign policy, it needs to stand behind the U.S. public broadcaster VOA and other Western media outlets threatened by autocratic regimes.

As for Erdogan, if he wants to prove the veracity of his statements of support for Ukraine, the least he can do is to allow Western broadcasters to continue to reach Turkish audiences unhindered so that they can push back against the propaganda spouted by Russia’s and China’s Turkish services.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Aykan, the Turkey Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Aykan on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Military and Political Power Russia Turkey U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy