May 7, 2015

Report reveals gov’t pressure on media more intense than ever in Turkey

A report prepared by an İstanbul-based organization has revealed the problematic nature of the relations between the government and media outlets in Turkey, and highlights the fact that government pressure on the media over the past several years has become more intense than ever.

Associate professor İhsan Yılmaz of Fatih University, Dr. Ceren Sözeri of Galatasaray University and Rota Haber, Editor-in-Chief at Ünal Tanık, are seen speaking at the İstanbul Institute

The report, which was prepared by the İstanbul Institute's Center of Media and Communication Studies by Associate Professor Ceren Sözeri, was made public at a news conference held at a Taksim hotel in İstanbul on Thursday.

It is titled “Türkiye'de Medya -- İktidar İlişkileri: Sorunlar ve Öneriler” (Media-Government Relations in Turkey: Problems and Proposals.” Another report by the same institution that was also made public on Thursday is titled “Basın Özgürlüğünün Hukuki Zemini” (Legal Foundation of Freedom of the Press).

The report said members of the media in Turkey have been functioning in a climate of self-censorship for years due to pressure from the government and the close relationship between media owners and government officials.

“For many years, the media have been functioning in the pincers of [problematic] relations between media bosses and the government and under government pressure. Although it is known that the media in Turkey have never enjoyed a free and competitive environment, the accumulation of power in a single party and even a single leader over the past years has increased the pressure on the press in an unprecedented way,” said the report.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have been receiving growing criticism for their attempts to silence critical media in the country. Not a day seems to pass in the country without journalists facing harsh forms of repression; a number of them are either in jail, losing their jobs or dealing with legal charges brought against them, either by the government or Erdoğan.

The report said the non-profitable nature of the media sector, market circumstances and the state having large economic power allow the government to use sanctions against media owners when they want to perform independent journalism, which includes criticism of government policies. In addition, the report said the fact that media owners do business in other sectors prompts them not to be critical of the government and even to be close to it, so they resort to self-censorship.

“While media owners that support the government are rewarded with public tenders, the opposing ones are punished. These punishments come in the form of taxes, lawsuits and sometimes as sanctions from the Radio and Television Supreme Council [RTÜK],” said the report.

In the report on government relations with the media, there is also information about how the AK Party government, which came to power in 2002, has redesigned the Turkish mainstream media and silenced some critical media outlets through tax fines and sales to pro-government businessmen.

It cited tax punishments given to the Doğan Media Group owned by Aydın Doğan, and sales of Doğan's Milliyet and Vatan dailies to the Demirören Group, which removed critical journalists from these dailies and adopted a pro-government policy because Demirören has investments in other sectors.

The İstanbul Institute's report also mentions an ongoing government crackdown on media outlets such as the Zaman and Bugün dailies, and Samanyolu TV, which are owned by people inspired by the ideas of Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. In a government-backed operation launched on Dec. 14 of last year, Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu top executive Hidayet Karaca were detained. While Dumanlı was released pending trial, journalist Karaca is still imprisoned.

Erdoğan and the AK Party government launched a battle against the faith-based Gülen or Hizmet movement after a corruption probe went public on Dec. 17, 2013, implicating senior members of the government, sons of three now-former ministers and government-affiliated figures. They accuse Hizmet of establishing a “parallel state” and plotting to topple the government, while the movement strongly denies the charges.

The report also cited the halting of mining activities of businessman Akın İpek, who owns İpek Media Group's Bugün TV and newspaper, Kanaltürk and some other news outlets, by the government on the grounds that İpek is close to the Hizmet movement.

To maintain a free and independent environment for journalists to work in Turkey, the report makes some recommendations. It suggests that the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is used as grounds to prosecute journalists, should be annulled; the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) should be the basis to ensure that the detentions of journalists do not turn into indiscriminate convictions; the state should take the necessary measures to ensure that journalists may perform their jobs safely without being subjected to any physical attacks; public tenders should be held in a transparent and fair way; RTÜK's administrative and financial independence should be maintained and its members should represent a broader segment of the society; press cards should be given by independent press organs, not by the state; and solidarity among media members should be increased.

Published on Today's Zaman, 07 May 2015, Thursday