Before police could even manage establishing who was responsible for the car bombing in Istanbul which killed 11 this week, the government in Turkey had banned the media from reporting anything about ongoing investigations.
Prohibitions have been put into effect after such incidents since 2013 and have become a routine — but they’re part of what free-speech advocates say is an increasingly concerning pattern of restricting news coverage in Turkey. Violating the ban leaves local news channels vulnerable to fines and potential prosecution.
Although other countries use such bans, what makes the case particularly different in Turkey is the extremely broad nature and the absence of clarity as to when the ban would expire and what the consequences are for those who take the risk of violating them.
“How these bans are defined, we don’t know,” says Kadri Gursel of the International Press Institute.
Critics say Turkey has witnessed a steep decline in press freedoms since two polarizing elections that dominated headlines in 2015; the resurgence of conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants as a truce collapsed last summer; and a series of suicide attacks blamed on ISIS militants.
Turkish officials defend bans, saying that they are necessary to protect the investigation into the attacks, prevent fear and panic among the public and bar images from serving as “propaganda” for the terror groups. That is a point of view that has considerable support in the broader public.
A senior Turkish official said that the orders don’t amount to “media bans,” as news channels do cover the general aftermath of terror attacks, but aim to prevent Turkish media from publishing and broadcasting violent images that Western media outlets would refrain from publishing or broadcasting due to ethical standards.
The bans prohibit reports that name suspects and increase the flight risk of collaborators, he said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations that prevent public officials from speaking to journalists without prior authorization. As well as restricting reporting of attacks, the bans have been used during a fatal mining disaster in 2014 and a probe into top brass corruption in 2013.