August 20, 2014

Erdoğan gov't expands ban on media coverage for public event

Independent and critical media outlets in Turkey -- including Zaman, the country's highest-circulation newspaper, and Cihan, the country's largest private news agency -- were denied accreditation to cover the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) extraordinary congress slated for Aug. 27.

The congress will elect a new leader for the ruling party who will be tasked with forming the new Cabinet when President-elect and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moves to the Çankaya presidential palace a day after the congress.

In addition to Zaman and Cihan, Today's Zaman, the Bugün daily, Samanyolu TV, Kanaltürk and Bugün TV were also denied access to the congress.

In their last party congress in September 2012, the AK Party also refused access to critical media such as the Cumhuriyet, Aydınlık, Sözcü, Yeni Çağ, Evrensel and Birgün dailies. With the addition of new names to the banned list, the ruling party has expanded censorship in the coverage of a public event.

The practice of denying media access to a public event represents the latest in a series of restrictions imposed on independent media in Turkey by an increasingly authoritarian government headed by Prime Minister Erdoğan.

The Erdoğan government has made it a rule rather than an exception to deny accreditation to critical and independent media outlets in Turkey, drawing criticism from the European Union, opposition parties and media watchdog groups that accuse the governing party of violating press freedom.

The European Union criticized the Turkish ruling party's refusal to award accreditation to some newspapers to cover the party's fourth ordinary congress held in 2012, saying that such a practice has no place in a democratic society.

“The right to freedom of expression also includes the right to receive and impart information, and selective accreditation of established media should not have a place in a transparent, democratic society,” Peter Stano, spokesman for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule, said at the time.

Erdoğan defended the ban and his refusal to issue press badges for a number of newspapers, all of which are critical of the party, saying that he was not obliged to do so.

Media groups in the past suffered from a controversial authoritarian practice within the General Staff, which refused to provide accreditation to a number TV stations and newspapers, including Today's Zaman and the Zaman daily. The ban came into effect after the Feb. 28, 1997 military intervention, known as the “postmodern coup.” The General Staff finally dropped the ban in 2012.

Just last week, a Cihan TV crew was forced to leave an event organized by a civic group in Ankara on Wednesday after the interior minister's aide intervened along with event organizers.

Reporter Seyfettin Koçak and cameraman Yalçın Kaya were dispatched to cover a panel discussion on the problems facing youth at the invitation of the Anatolian Students' Union, the host of the event. The two were singled out among all other reporters and asked to leave the premises by an aide to Interior Minister Efkan Ala. This illegal practice by the minister's aides was protested by colleagues from other networks.

In May, Zaman daily UK representative Kadir Uysaloğlu was also asked to leave when Turkey's finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, delivered a speech at the Financial Times' head office in London.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 August 2014, Tuesday