January 28, 2015

Turkey harshly criticized by panel in US over press freedom

The government's recent crackdown on the media was severely criticized during a panel discussion at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington, D.C.

During the event, which was attended by a number of civil society groups working for fundamental freedoms in the US, the issue of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) practices attracted the participants' attention.

The party has been aiming to put restrictions on free media by imposing gag and publication orders in order to prevent the details of a massive corruption scandal that hit the government on Dec. 17, 2013 from being spread and critical voices from being heard.

The main focus of the discussion was directed mainly at journalists who were recently detained for posting tweets critical of the government on Twitter and the targeting of anyone who resists government-orchestrated pressure. The overall comments from participants were in agreement that the government is carrying out a “witch hunt” against the members of the faith-based Hizmet movement (also known as the Gülen movement as it is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen). However, the crackdown being imposed is not only particular to the media outlets which are affiliated with the movement. The panels reached the conclusion that pressure is being imposed in general on all media outlets which draw attention to the government's anti-democratic practices.

During some presentations, it was emphasized that the AK Party is repeatedly violating freedom of press and does not recognize international norms on the matter. Another point that was focused on by the panels was the issue of nepotism stemming from the government's appointments in key state agencies. The issue of key positions in the pro-government media being taken by relatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was also raised, giving rise to the question of if these media outlets are impartial in their coverage or not.

Delphine Halgand, the US director of Reporters Without Borders, Kemal Kirişci, a director of the Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project at Brookings Institution, Tolga Tanış, a columnist for the Hürriyet daily based in Washington, and Zaman daily writer Sevgi Akarçeşme were among the participants of the panel held by the NPC.

In his speech on the NPC panel, Kirişçi recalled that journalist Sedef Kabaş and Merve Büyüksaraç, a former Turkish beauty queen, were detained over their tweets which were critical of Erdoğan. Defining the act as a part of intimidation campaign against individuals who oppose the government, Kirişçi also mentioned the detention of Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı in late December of last year.

Halgand also emphasized the AK Party is pursuing an oppressive method to silence the media and said, "The pressure on media substantially increased following the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal [that implicated key government members, Erdoğan's himself and businessmen].

Zaman daily writer Akarçeşme stressed that certain key media moguls in the country are Erdoğan's relatives, adding, "Directly or indirectly, Erdoğan is the main media mogul in Turkey."

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 January 2015, Wednesday