November 20, 2014

AKP’s media censorship

Hidayet Karaca*

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which has been in power for 12 years, has become even more repressive in recent months. The ruling party has been placing extreme pressure on civil society organizations, individuals, and media outlets.

Many media workers have been laid off. Currently, the media is facing stronger intimidation than ever before experienced, worse even than during the coup periods. The pressure being put on the Samanyolu Broadcast Group is the best example of this. Subsequent to the Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2013 corruption operations involving some ministers and sons of the ministers, the AKP government has made efforts to ensure that Samanyolu Broadcast Group is unable to do its job properly.

What has our group faced in the last 11 months?

1) Huge penalties

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the majority of which are AKP members, has imposed numerous fines on Samanyolu TV stations over the past 10 months and they have always levied the highest allowable fine. Samanyolu, which has never before been subjected to such large fines, has faced them frequently since the government bribery and corruption investigations.

2) Measures to terminate broadcasts, aka censorship

RTÜK has also issued decisions demanding that Samanyolu cease broadcasting activities despite the fact that the group was known for being the most compliant with broadcasting rules before the exposure of the corruption allegations. RTÜK and the Supreme Election Council (YSK) have since banned Samanyolu News Channel from broadcasting 49 times. Most interestingly, bans occurred most frequently shortly before the March 30 local elections and the Aug. 10 presidential election. The economic impact of these bans was also harmful to the group.

3) State of accreditation a shame in the 21st century

Our channels are subjected to an accreditation requirement that has never been so grave, even during the Feb. 28, 1997 coup or other coup periods. Our correspondents are not allowed to cover meetings by the president, prime minister or the interior minister; crimes of censorship and discrimination were openly committed.

4) Obstacles to shooting soap operas and TV shows

a) “Şefkat Tepe” (Compassion Hill)

This TV series has attracted a great deal of attention from viewers since its initial episode. Then, the Konya Governor's Office ordered a ban on shooting the series within the boundaries of the city without providing any reason. A court abrogated the order, but the governorate resorted to obstructive measures to ensure that our crew was unable to proceed. In the end, we had to move the entire film set to Eskişehir. The artists experienced serious difficulties due to adaptation problems. In addition, the group, artists and all others involved in the making of the series suffered financial losses during this process.

Unfortunately, the Eskişehir Governor's Office, which had allowed filming, soon issued a ban as well. The actors were intimidated to ensure they would quit. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his capacity then as prime minister, made insulting remarks about the series during political rallies, making the entire broadcasting group a target.

b) “Ötesiz İnsanlar” (Altruistic People)

Authorities issued permission for others to shoot TV series in İstanbul's Fatih district; however, our group is not allowed to do the same. The crew has faced serious obstacles from the local authorities and police department.

c) “Yetim Gönüller” (Orphaned Hearts)

Serious problems are encountered when filming in Eskişehir. The crew sometimes has to go to a different city to shoot scenes.

d) “İki Dünya Arasında” (Between Two Worlds)

This is one of the most popular daily TV series in Turkey as evaluated and confirmed by independent agencies. Sadly however, the authorities from Şile Municipality, which is held by the AKP, obstruct the filming of episodes.

e) TV coverage in public places during religious events

One of the most concerted efforts to pressure Samanyolu took place on July 12, 2014. Despite having legal permission to film, Üsküdar Municipality obstructed us from filming on the grounds of Selimiye Mosque for a program involving coverage of the breaking of the fast. Our requests to film at mosques and sacred places during religious holidays were denied without any reason being provided.

5) Our broadcast group has been audited numerous times with non-routine inspections conducted for the purposes of intimidation

One of the worst pressures on Samanyolu is the extraordinary financial and social security inspections. Despite determining that we are not engaged in illegal or irregular conduct, inspectors have performed frequent audits and levied high penalties.

6) Efforts to ensure Samanyolu does not receive advertising contracts from business circles

Business enterprises that are under the strong influence of the government no longer sign advertising contracts with Samanyolu or our affiliates. Public institutions are meant to consider TV show ratings when ordering advertisements, but they have instead favored pro-government media outlets. Some private companies also avoid ordering advertisements for publication in Samanyolu outlets due to fear of the government.

7) Espionage activities to undermine image of Samanyolu

Our IT Department detected spy software that had been installed on the computers of our staff. This attempt to give the impression that our group and employees are involved in illegal activities was successfully aborted.

8) Hacking of our Internet broadcast

There were attempts to hack our computer networks and servers during the local elections this year. Efforts were also made to obstruct our Internet broadcasting.

9) Raid on our TV station

Some people holding AKP propaganda materials attempted to invade our TV station during the counting of the votes during both the local and presidential elections. When they failed, they cursed our staff.

10) Pressure on our former guests

Some renowned figures that appeared on our TV programs many times in the past have since been hesitant to return because of the smear campaign against Samanyolu. Oftentimes, they decline our invitations.

Despite all the obstructions, hate discourse and crimes committed against us, our group will continue to do its job by steadfastly abiding by our principles. We will remain committed to our independent and impartial broadcasting motto without compromising democracy, human rights or freedoms. We believe that democracy and the supremacy of law will someday be upheld. Those who have committed crimes against our media group will be held accountable in a court of law in the future. Those who committed hate crimes and discrimination, including members of relevant boards, local authorities and bureaucrats, will eventually be tried. We will stay focused on this. Evil may prevail now but we know that good will have the future.

*Hidayet Karaca is the Samanyolu Broadcast Group chairman.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 November 2014, Wednesday