May 19, 2015

European liberal alliance leader says silencing free media could prove fatal to Turkish economy

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) President Sir Graham Watson has cautioned that a Turkish prosecutor's attempt to silence media critical of the government by asking a ministry to disallow the media outlets from using the state's communications infrastructure could cause fatal results for Turkish economy.

“[The] Ankara's prosecutor's move to silence free media [i.e., Zaman newspaper, Samanyolu TV] could prove fatal to Turkey's economy, as [has happened] in Russia,” Sir Graham said in his remarks posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

According to media reports, Ankara Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, who is responsible for the Bureau for Crimes against the Constitutional Order, sent a document to the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT) Directorate General, which falls under the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications, on April 27 asking it to prevent the state-owned satellite connection from being used by certain media outlets. The Turkish media reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of an investigation into claims about the “parallel structure,” and particularly targets the media outlets inspired by the Gülen movement.

The “parallel structure” is a term that was invented by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following a massive corruption scandal to refer to members of the Gülen movement, who he alleges operate from within the police and the judiciary. The Gülen movement is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The government has failed to offer any evidence indicating such a structure exists in the government since December 2013, when senior members of the government of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated in a massive corruption scandal. Moreover, there is no court decision classifying the movement as an "armed terrorist organization," as is claimed by pro-government circles.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) representative to the European Federation of Journalists Barry White reacted on Tuesday over the claims that the prosecutor is seeking to block certain critical media outlets, declaring the importance of democracy and people's right to obtain information.

In his remarks to Today's Zaman, White stressed that one of the pillars of democracy is the open and wide debate of ideas and information that should be accessible to all, continuing by saying that if the claims are true, it is an attack on media freedom and the press is being threatened ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

“If reports that the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications has been asked to stop critical media outlets from using the state's communications infrastructure are true, this represents a serious blow to democracy and the public's right to know and be informed. It is crude state censorship. It is also significant that this attack on the freedom of the press is being threatened in the run-up to the general election," White concluded.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 May 2015, Tuesday