Earthquake, responsibility, and independent media

Earthquake, responsibility, and independent media


The disastrous earthquakes on February 6, 2023, which centered in Kahramanmaraş and impacted approximately 11 provinces, marked one of the most significant natural disasters in our history. A year has passed since these earthquakes, which directly affected nearly 15 million people and claimed at least 50,000 lives. Entire cities were obliterated, and hundreds of thousands of buildings collapsed.

From the onset of the earthquake, the government prioritized censoring journalists and social media over aiding the affected people and conducting rescue operations. Those who enabled unauthorized construction through zoning amnesties, including the 20-year administrators of Hatay, are now candidates for managing the city again. Regrettably, there are still no responsible parties held accountable, no dismissals, and no penalties issued. Instead, the reputations of some perpetrators have been restored.

For the government, the media was to blame for the losses incurred. However, we remember that independent journalists reached the earthquake zone before state officials did. While pro-government media outlets claimed everything was under control, independent journalists and media platforms, and crucially, the people living there, reported that no aid or rescue efforts reached the area for the first three days.

On the second day of the earthquake, the Presidency's Directorate of Communications released a video accusing journalists and social media platforms of disinformation. Government officials demanded that journalists in the earthquake zone show press cards issued by the Directorate of Communications. Some journalists without such cards were prevented from reporting in the area.

President Erdoğan, in his first press statement post-earthquake, warned social media users and journalists that their online posts were noted and would be addressed in due time.

Rescue or blackout?

The most baffling and infuriating aspect for many was the 8-hour Twitter blackout imposed. With over 90% of mainstream media in Turkey either under government control or owned by pro-government capital groups, people often rely on social media platforms or independent internet news portals for information.

From the moment the earthquake struck, we started receiving news through Twitter. Many trapped under the rubble shared their locations and addresses on social media, their cries for help were heard there, and rescue operations and aid were organized through these platforms. With limited options for news and organization, Twitter was crucial.

The government's neglect, shortcomings, and the corruption and incompetence in institutions established to combat disasters were also exposed on Twitter.

Instead of prioritizing the chaos and life-and-death struggle caused by the earthquake, on its second day, the government held a meeting with Twitter Turkey management. The government reportedly requested Twitter to combat "disinformation" and block certain journalist accounts.

When Twitter did not comply with these demands, access to the platform was shut down on the second day of the earthquake, without a court order. This occurred during the critical hours for those trapped under rubble and for rescue operations, leaving people unable to access Twitter for 8 hours, significantly hampering news flow and rescue efforts.

This censorship led to significant backlash both within Turkey and globally. With tens of thousands still trapped and awaiting aid, and many rescue operations being organized via social media, the restriction of access to social media during these critical hours was seen as highly detrimental.

Following public outcry, the government reopened access to Twitter, but critical hours vital for those trapped had already been lost.

The pressure on the media didn't stop with blocking access to social media. Dozens of journalists faced physical attacks, many were detained for their reporting, lawsuits were filed, and arrests were made.

Journalists Ali İmdat and İbrahim İmdat, who were also earthquake victims, were arrested for reporting that tents sent for earthquake victims were not being distributed. They were charged with "publicly spreading misleading information," known colloquially as the "disinformation law." These journalists were deprived of their freedom for simply reporting the needs of the people.

Journalist Mir Ali Koçer, who had been reporting from the earthquake zone since the first day, faced an investigation for "spreading misleading information" after reporting that the city of Adıyaman, where many died and remained under the rubble, smelled terrible due to unremoved corpses and that people were forced to wear masks. Dozens of journalists, scientists, and citizens faced investigations for allegedly spreading disinformation, with some of these investigations leading to ongoing trials.

Turkey's few independent television channels, such as Halk TV, Tele1, and Fox TV, which became the most-watched channels in the country following the earthquake, were also punished for their journalistic activities. Despite facing many challenges and obstructions, these channels courageously reported on the government's neglect, earthquake-related corruption, and the needs of society. They tried to report from the earthquake zone from day one.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council, which regulates internet and television broadcasting in Turkey, penalized these three channels with broadcast suspension and administrative fines five times each for their post-earthquake broadcasts. These penalties were significant for channels already struggling to receive advertisements from large companies and public institutions.

Censorship didn't end there. Ekşisözlük, Turkey's most popular and longstanding participatory dictionary, was blocked by the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK), directly controlled by the government. The reason for blocking access to Ekşisözlük, which has thousands of authors and is read hundreds of thousands of times daily, was its content discussing the government's failures and shortcomings in handling the earthquake. Along with Ekşisözlük, access to hundreds of journalists' and media outlets' accounts was also restricted.

In summary, while dealing with one of the greatest tragedies in our history, with lifeless bodies waiting to be retrieved from the rubble and hundreds of thousands of people struggling with shelter and food, we also had to battle censorship.

This earthquake disaster once again showed that independent journalism is crucial not only for freedom of expression but also for the preservation of human life.

And once again, this disaster demonstrated that for oppressive regimes, silencing independent reporters and media is of greater importance than saving human lives.


Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA) haber alma hakkı, ifade özgürlüğü ve basın özgürlüğü alanlarında faaliyet yürüten bir sivil toplum kuruluşudur. Derneğimiz başta gazeteciler olmak üzere mesleki faaliyetleri sebebiyle yargılanan kişilere hukuki destek vermektedir.