May 23, 2015

NY Times highlights possible plan to shut down critical media

The New York Times has urged the US and other NATO allies to ask Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to turn away from "destructive path," highlighting the prevailing fear among journalists that he might be preparing to shut down critical media outlets, including this newspaper.

In an editorial titled "Dark Clouds Over Turkey," the newspaper pointed to fear of critics that a new crackdown is starting to ensure that the ruling party he founded wins in upcoming parliamentary elections slated for June 7. Erdoğan didn't make it secret that he wants to see the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to win necessary number of seats to expand his presidential powers.

"That kind of brute manipulation of the political process would be a serious mistake, further weakening the country’s battered democracy and tainting whatever victory might emerge," the editorial warned.

The newspaper said Erdoğan has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media, but "new alarms were set off" this week when Hürriyet daily editors faced with criminal complaints after Erdoğan described a news report headline "a threat to his life."

The headline, which reported on a death sentence given to former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, allegedly sent a subtle signal that the Turkish president may face a similar fate.

"Not only is the accusation distorted and absurd; it is a slap at the idea that Turkey is still a democracy," the newspaper editorial stated.

Assault on Hürriyet daily is not the only troubled development for the Turkish media in the past week. A prosecutor in Ankara also called for a ban on several media outlets, including Samanyolu and Bugün TV channels, for "promoting terrorism." The editorial recalled that Zaman daily's editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı was among 16 journalists arrested last December. It noted that some journalists fear the government plans to use anti-terrorism laws to shut down Hürriyet, Zaman and their parent companies — the two main independent media sources — ahead of the election and confiscate their assets.

Government whistleblower Fuat Avni, who has a credible record of predicting government moves, said on Friday that the Turkish authorities are planning to seize the Doğan Media Holding, country's largest media empire, if the June election outcome is favorable.

The NY Times said journalists aren’t the only ones who are worried. It said leading labor unions expressed concern about security for the June election and stressed how the ruling party had mobilized government institutions on its behalf. Turkish opposition parties repeatedly complained about how Erdoğan is exploiting state resources to stomp for the ruling party, a violation of the Constitution, but the elections watchdog turned a blind eye to the allegations.

"While the country has faced tough political campaigns before, this one is especially vicious and the mood seems unusually dark and fearful," the editorial said, adding that Erdoğan appears increasingly hostile to truth-telling.

"The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging him to turn away from this destructive path."

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 May 2015, Saturday