August 27, 2014

Turkey's ‘new era' for Erdoğan begins with media restrictions

President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's new era in Turkey has kicked off with fresh restrictions, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) refused to accredit several media outlets to cover the party's extraordinary congress on Wednesday.

A total of 12 media outlets, including the Yeni Çağ, Birgün, Aydınlık, Evrensel and Yurt dailies and the Ulusal Kanal, Bugün, Samanyolu Haber and Kanaltürk stations, as well as the Zaman daily, Today's Zaman daily and Cihan news agency, which are known to be affiliated with the faith-based Hizmet movement that is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, were not accredited to attend the congress.

The AK Party has also drawn strong criticism from journalists' unions for its denial of accreditation to these outlets.

The Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD) strongly condemned the restriction on Wednesday, adding that this kind of media ban is not a new phenomenon in the AK Party's Turkey, which has become a country where hundreds of journalists are detained, politicians are able to fire journalists over the phone, and reporters are only allowed to ask “pre-determined” questions.

The ÇGD also stressed that these media restrictions show how Erdoğan's idea of a “new Turkey” will be identical to the old one.

Erdoğan won the Aug. 10 presidential election with 51.8 percent of the popular vote, after which he delivered a message of national reconciliation in his victory speech. He mentioned a “new Turkey,” signaling a “more balanced” approach in both domestic and foreign policy.

Turkey's Press Council said in a written statement on Wednesday that embracing all segments of society should be the main principle of a democratic country, adding that it is not possible to accept discrimination, in reference to the AK Party's media restrictions.

Calling on the government to stop discriminating against media outlets, the Press Council said such “old habits” of the government will not benefit Erdoğan's “new Turkey.”

The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) told Today's Zaman on Wednesday that it condemns the government's denial of the right to receive information and learn the truth by “blocking” outlets that are not pro-government.

The TGC also called on the government to leave the process of accreditation to the press.

According to Turkish media reports, the AK Party's media department explained that certain media outlets had been denied accreditation due to the current “conjuncture.”

In remarks to Today's Zaman, Yusuf Kanlı, a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News, described the restrictions as a worrying fact for Turkey, adding that this kind of ban contradicts Erdoğan's claim that he will embrace all segments of Turkish society.

Wednesday's AK Party congress determined the ruling party's new chairman, who will succeed Erdoğan as prime minister. Erdoğan was chairman of the ruling party for over 10 years. Incumbent Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was elected as the new party chairman and new prime minister, as he was the only candidate nominated. Erdoğan was set to take over the Presidency on Thursday.

Some politicians also lashed out at the AK Party media ban for the congress. Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman and spokesman Haluk Koç listed the names of the media outlets that failed to receive accreditation, saying it revealed the "report card" of "the champions of democracy."

Independent Kütahya deputy İdris Bal also criticized the AK Party for adopting bans similar to those adopted by former governments in Turkey,

Head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Europe Desk Johann Bihr said in a written statement to Today's Zaman that the election of the next prime minister is a very important political event, and hence all media should have been allowed to cover the event in the name of public interest.
"Blocking access to critical media (nationalists, leftists, Gülenists, etc. altogether) is one more example of blatant censorship. We urge [the AK Party] to stop resorting to such practices, which violate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression and the international conventions ratified by Turkey," Bihr said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to comment on Wednesday's restrictions.

Meanwhile, citing a “significant decline” in press freedom in Turkey, US-based watchdog Freedom House downgraded Turkey from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” in its “Freedom of the Press 2014” report in May. The report stressed that Turkey had experienced the largest decline in Europe.

Davutoğlu strongly criticized the Freedom House report, however, claiming that it was “a move to manipulate people's perception of Turkey.”

“The category in which Freedom House has put Turkey is not based on any objective information, which shows that the report is an effort to control [the public's] perception [of Turkey]," Davutoğlu said in May. Calling on Turkish journalists to "reject" the report, Davutoğlu added, “If there is an effort like this being carried out against Turkey, we should stand united against it."

In earlier remarks to Today's Zaman, Freedom House Project Director on Freedom of the Press Dr. Karin Karlekar dismissed this criticism from Davutoğlu, saying the conditions for press freedom are getting worse in Turkey, with many cases of journalists being fired and ongoing censorship. She said there are international concerns about press freedoms in Turkey and "it is worrisome."

“The press freedom climate deteriorated sharply during the year as journalists were harassed and assaulted while attempting to cover the Gezi Park protests… in May, and dozens were fired or forced to resign in response to sympathetic coverage of the protesters' demands,” the Freedom House report said.

“In Turkey, dozens of journalists were forced from their jobs in apparent connection with their coverage of politically sensitive issues like negotiations between the government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Gezi Park protests or official corruption scandals,” the report added. “The firings highlighted the close relationship between the government and many media owners, and the formal and informal pressure that this places on journalists,” it said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 August 2014, Wednesday