January 29, 2015

Ministry imposing bans against Zaman, Cihan defends press freedom in Crimea

The Turkish Foreign Ministry, which has been criticized for the media accreditation bans it has imposed against reporters from the Zaman and Cihan news outlets, has defended press freedom in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, slamming a police raid conducted at a Tatar TV station.

Releasing a written statement on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry defined the Monday police raid at the Crimean Tatar ATR station's office located in Simferopol, called “Akmescit” by the Tatars, as clearly and seriously violating press freedom.

A group of Russian riot police raided the office of the television station serving Tatars, a minority ethnic group in Crimea that is critical of Russia's seizure of the peninsula, on Monday.

While defending media freedom in Crimea, the same Foreign Ministry has imposed media accreditation bans against Zaman and Cihan, two media outlets that are close to the Gülen movement (Hizmet movement) -- inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The ministry has been preventing some Hizmet-affiliated media from attending ministry events since a major corruption and bribery scandal implicating government officials went public on Dec. 17, 2013.

Journalists from the Zaman and Cihan were prevented from attending a press briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç at the ministry's headquarters on Nov. 4, 2014. The Foreign Ministry official prevented the journalists from entering the hall where the event was to take place, stating that he had received orders from higher authorities to stop the reporters.

In November, the ministry stopped sending official statements and text messages to Zaman, Today's Zaman and Cihan. It also has excluded all journalists affiliated with these media outlets from its statement distribution list since Nov. 3.

Furthermore, former Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had indirectly threatened a Zaman reporter, Servet Yanatma, during a press conference held in May 2014.

Davutoğlu told Yanatma, who had asked about freedom of the press in Turkey, that his country has press freedom since “you can safely go home from this press conference."

The former foreign minister had criticized the question by Yanatma, who had asked Davutoğlu if it is normal for a prime minister to appoint newspaper editors, ask for the identities of sources, edit news reports and threaten a media owner. Davutoğlu described the journalist's question as an "insult to the prime minister.”

Davutoğlu said if the journalist has the courage to ask this question, which insults the prime minister, in front of the foreign minister and can go home safely, then "we have press freedom."

Reporters from Zaman and Cihan were also excluded from a press conference held by EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır in Brussels on Oct. 18.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 January 2015, Thursday