December 30, 2014

Al-Awsat: Media freedoms in Turkey only on paper

Asharq al-Awsat, one of the most influential papers in the Arab world, has featured an interview with Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı with the headline reading “Media freedoms in Turkey, only on paper.”

The newspaper, whose name means "The Middle East," wrote about a phrase recently coined by Dumanlı, “two articles, one piece of news,” which refers to Dumanlı having asked the prosecutor if he was being detained because of two articles and one piece of news that he allowed to be published under his watch. The prosecutor questioned Dumanlı and 30 other detainees after police operations targeted the Zaman daily and Samanyolu Broadcasting group on Dec. 14.

The article in al-Awsat also mentions that Dumanlı calls the allegations against him as “absurd” and speaks of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, stating that he is “not a terrorist, but a man of peace and dialogue.”

The article, which features a picture of Dumanlı after he was released from police custody and was met by thousands of protesters outside İstanbul's Çağlayan Courthouse, notes that this was Dumanlı's second stint in police custody, the first being immediately after a coup in 1980.

The article also touches up on the fact that the prosecutor has asked for Dumanlı's release to be reversed, which, if accepted, would lead to Dumanlı being detained again.

According to the article, Dumanlı is not taking the allegations against him seriously. Al-Awsat quotes Dumanlı as saying: “The real threat against thought, speech and media freedom doesn't come from the deficiencies in the law. We are going through a period where the law is only on paper. ... The fact that the investigation is hurried, without evidence and based upon unsupported claims, is quite obvious. Because the only one piece of evidence they have about me is one piece of news and two articles. And what's, more I did not write the news piece or the two articles."

The editor-in-chief of Turkey's highest-circulation is further quoted as having stated: “Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu TV, has been accused [of the charges against him] based on a TV series. Manifesting a terrorist organization from articles and TV series is terrible unlawfulness. ... History will assuredly write the truth about this and how baseless the allegations are."

Replying to a question on what he thought about allegations that he writes articles for a "parallel state," Dumanlı said: “The stigmatization of the [faith-based] Hizmet movement, which engages in dialogue projects, helps the needy and has educational facilities in over 160 countries, happened to cover up a corruption scandal that went public in the [Dec.] 17-25 [2013] graft probes and resulted in the resignation of four then-Cabinet ministers. ... One year ago, President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and many front-runners of the AKP [Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] were applauding the Hizmet movement, bestowing many positive attributes to the movement. But everyone living in Turkey and the whole world can see that the AKP government is diverging from democracy and that corruption is increasing.”

Media freedoms at worst in 'mastership period'

According to the interview, Dumanlı noted: “In the last 12 years, 1,863 journalists have been fired from their jobs, and 90 percent of these have been in the period Erdoğan calls his “mastership period.”

Erdoğan said that after completing its first term as a “learner” and its second as an “apprentice,” the AK Party government was ready to start its third term, as a “master,” after the 2011 elections.

Asharq al-Awsat recently featured the Dec. 14 police operations against independent media in Turkey with the headline: “Democracy in Turkey on its deathbed for two years.”

The Saudi-funded news outlet then conducted an interview with Abdülhamit Bilici, the head of the Cihan news agency who is also a columnist for Today's Zaman. In the interview, Bilici likened the status of Turkey's democracy to a sick person on his or her deathbed, waiting to die.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 December 2014, Monday