September 8, 2015

Media heads agree to unite against growing pressure

As the pressures against freedom of the press heighten in the aftermath of the attack on the Hürriyet daily headquarters on Sunday night, press outlets from different ideological backgrounds agreed to unite against the oppression enforced by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Representatives from ideologically different media outlets gathered during a meeting held on Tuesday morning at the Press Museum in İstanbul, led by the efforts of Turkish Journalists' Association (TGC) President Turgay Olcayto, Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) President Uğur Güç, Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) President Ahmet Abakay and Press Union of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK) President Faruk Eren.

While there were no representatives from pro-government media outlets in attendance, various ideological media organs such as labor left outlets the Evrensel and BirGün dailies as well as the Bugün and Zaman dailies and the Cihan news agency, which are linked to the faith-based Hizmet movement, gathered for Tuesday's meeting.

Cihan news agency General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici stated: “One of the reasons why Turkey has not been able to find democracy is because different groups have not been able to empathize with each another. Everyone is looking to combat one-on-one against whomever is in the seat of power. […] But whatever happens we need to be able to find democracy, justice and freedom of the media. If we can learn how to figure this out, these pressures can result in a win for our country.”

He also touched on the political division within the press, explaining how the recent attack on the Hürriyet headquarters and the struggles of several individual journalists from various newspapers have demonstrated that the increasing pressures on the press are not just a war between the AK Party and the Hizmet movement but is in fact a threat to all critical media organs.

‘Vehicle of democracy falling apart'

Similarly, Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı also took a turn at the podium, comparing democracy in Turkey to a vehicle that is breaking down.

“Turkish media is suffering from a baggage problem; everyone has baggage in the trunk, which is slowing down the vehicle. We all keep saying to one another, ‘Oh but you did this in the past, you did that in the past.' Yes, it's true, we all have mistakes we made in our past in the trunk. […] But we need to save ourselves from this baggage problem because while we are debating about what is in the trunk, the tires of the car are deflating, and the motor is being removed,” Dumanlı stated. Dumanlı was detained in an operation in December 2014.

‘Pro-gov't mouthpieces not real journalists'

TGS President Güç was critical of pro-government newspapers, which often copy and paste reports from the state-run Anadolu news agency, saying, “It is not possible to regard what they are doing as journalism.” The veteran journalist also touched on the issue of hate speech that is often used in these papers and how these are efforts to divide society.

Evrensel Editor-in-Chief Fatih Polat also spoke on the hate speech that is being spread and noted how during his daily morning meetings his team looks to find ways to use “peace” speech rather than hate speech.

ÇGD President Abakay, meanwhile, touched on how pro-government dailies choose to defend the AK Party rather than the profession of journalism, lamenting, “How unfortunate we are to be facing a group of journalists who defend the government over their own colleagues.”

Pressure on journalists has manifested in various forms. Some media headquarters such as the Koza İpek Media Group and Zaman daily have been raided by police. In other cases, journalists have had criminal cases filed against under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for “insulting the president.” Another method used by the government to ban access to news websites is by accusing them of promoting “terrorist propaganda,” which has led to the websites of outlets such as and the Dicle news agency to be blocked. Many journalists, most famously from the Milliyet daily, have also lost their jobs for their coverage and criticism of the government.

Published on Today's Zaman, 8 September 2015, Tuesday