ANKARA (Reuters) - A state prosecutor has banned Turkey’s largest pay-TV platform from broadcasting channels close to an arch-enemy of President Tayyip Erdogan, heightening concern about press freedom weeks ahead of an election.
Digiturk is the third platform to ditch channels close to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen on the orders of the Ankara prosecutor, including news services Bugun TV and S Haber, a children’s channel, and four other general interest stations.
Erdogan, who wants the ruling AK Party to win back a majority in a snap Nov. 1 election, accuses Gulen of seeking to overthrow him by means of a “parallel structure” of supporters in the judiciary, police, the media and other institutions.
Gulen has denied such charges and Erdogan’s opponents say the moves are an attempt to silence opposition before the polls.
“An official court document regarding crimes against the constitutional order was sent by the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office,” Digiturk said in a statement on Thursday.
“As the document’s content ordered, Kanalturk, Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV, S Haber, Bugun TV, Yumurcak TV and Irmak TV have been removed from the platform.”
Asked about media outlets close to Gulen, Erdogan was quoted by the Turkish daily Sabah as telling reporters as he flew to Japan on an official visit that “all necessary steps within the law should be taken in this subject.”
Digiturk is Turkey’s leading pay-TV platform with almost 3 million subscribers, according to data from Turkey’s information technologies authority.
Turkcell TV+, an online streaming service provided by Turkcell, and Tivibu, provided by Turk Telekom, had earlier removed the channels in line with the same court order.
“This is the AK Party’s effort to silence opposition media in the run-up to the general election,” Ismet Demirdogen, an opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) member of the Radio and Television watchdog RTUK, told Reuters.
“What can be achieved through banning a cartoon channel?”
Police last month raided the offices of Koza Ipek, a conglomerate close to Gulen that owns channels including Kanalturk and Bugun TV. Late last year, dozens were detained in raids on media outlets with ties to the cleric.
The ban on the children’s channel drew ridicule and ire on social media.
“This decision is a blow to Arthur the rabbit and Yumi the clever truck, who have supported a civilian coup,” said one tweet, referring to two children’s TV characters. It was retweeted hundreds of times.
Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Tom Heneghan