June 1, 2015

WAN-IFRA calls on Turkish authorities to respect independent media

A resolution by the board of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has called on the Turkish government to end its attacks on independent media and to recognize the value of a critical press to the democratic process, particularly ahead of upcoming elections in June.

While meeting on Sunday in Washington during the 67th World News Media Congress, 22nd World Editors Forum and 25th World Advertising Forum, the board of WAN-IFRA noted with “alarm” the recent request sent by the Ankara Public Prosecutor to the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT), which falls under the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications, to deny the use of the state-owned satellite infrastructure to certain media outlets which are seen as being in opposition to or critical of the government.

“The board reminds the Turkish authorities that diversity of media is a prerequisite of a democratic society. It urges the state to do everything in its power to ensure critical and opposition voices are afforded the necessary space to exercise their right to unhindered freedom of expression,” the resolution said.

The board of WAN-IFRA also denounced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent condemnation of leading publication Hürriyet after he accused it of conspiring to incite a coup d'état. “The board calls on the Turkish government to urgently recognize the importance of plural voices within the media and to provide the conditions for independent sources of information to thrive, particularly as Turkish citizens head to the polls in only a matter of days,” the board said.

WAN-IFRA also called on Turkey to release journalists imprisoned because of their professional activities. “The board reminds Turkey that jailing journalists because of their critical coverage is in direct contravention of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that using anti-terror legislation to jail journalists is a flagrant abuse of executive power,” the resolution said.

In the latest move in an ongoing war conducted by President Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) against the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, Ankara Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun sent a document to the TÜRKSAT Directorate General on April 27 asking it to prevent a state-owned satellite connection from being used by these 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 media outlets inspired by the Gülen movement. The “parallel structure” is a term invented by Erdoğan after a massive corruption scandal to refer to members of the Gülen movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The reason behind the controversial and unconstitutional move by the prosecutor, which comes shortly before June's general election, is allegedly the anti-government media outlets' "creating polarization in society and terrorizing people." If the prosecutor's request is approved, opposition parties will be deprived of the means to conduct their election campaigns for the June election as most media in Turkey controlled by the AK Party government provides little or no coverage on the election campaigns of opposition parties.

Turkey already has a poor record on press freedom. Eight journalists remain behind bars in the country, including the Taraf daily journalist Mehmet Baransu, a fierce critic of the government, and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca. Scores of Turkish journalists are facing criminal cases, most of them filed by authorities on charges of "insulting public officials." Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its latest press freedom index, while Freedom House listed Turkey as “Not Free” in the category of media freedoms. Last month, a Turkish court ordered a temporary ban on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, prompting worldwide condemnation.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 31 May 2015, Sunday