Concern mounts about possible Turkish law on media funding

ISTANBUL — Press freedom groups expressed concern Friday about comments by Turkish officials about possible legislation to regulate foreign funding for media and the dissemination of fake news, saying it could further curtail independent journalism in Turkey.

A top aide to Turkey’s president said this week that the country needs a regulation on media outlets that receive foreign funds. Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said foreign media funding merits scrutiny when it comes from countries that “openly express their intentions and efforts to design Turkish politics.”

“We will not allow fifth column activities under new guises,” Altun said.

Turkish journalists flying back from a state visit to northern Cyprus this week reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party planned to review later this year whether the country needs a law against disseminating fake news. They quoted Erdogan as saying Turkey would have to fight the “terror of lies.”

The comments came as a negative social media campaign targeted independent press outlet Medyascope and its founder, veteran journalist Rusen Cakir, for receiving funds from the U.S.-based Chrest Foundation. The private philanthropy group has also funded non-profit organizations and foundations working in arts, culture and diversity.

Media Freedom Rapid Response and 23 allied groups said in a statement Friday that foreign funding was a critical source of income for independent news outlets in Turkey as they face government pressure. Mainstream Turkish media is mostly run by businesses close to the government.

“Taken together, these statements create the impression that the Turkish government is preparing to introduce new legal measures that will further undermine media freedom and pluralism in the country,” the statement said.

But Altun said similar regulations apply in the United States, where media outlets funded by foreign countries must provide information on activities to U.S. authorities. Turkey’s state-funded English-language broadcaster TRT World was required to register as a foreign agent last year under the Foreign Agent Registration Act for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT then said its performed new sathering and reporting like any other international media.

Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey at 153 out of 180 countries in 2021. The Journalists’ Union of Turkey says 38 media workers remain behind bars.