October 30, 2015

EU says journalists should be able to work in free, safe environment

The European Union's executive arm has emphasized that members of the media must be able to work in a free and safe environment after journalists working in four media outlets seized by a court appointed board of trustees in Turkey were sacked and censored.

"The commission continues to follow the developments closely and reiterates the importance of respect of rule of law and media freedom. The Commission has repeatedly called for enabling journalists to work in a free and safe environment as it is a cornerstone of democratic societies," Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said in response to a question.

"Turkey as any country negotiating EU membership needs to ensure the respect of human rights, including freedom of expression, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR]. The EU will continue raising the issue of the freedom of expression with the Turkish authorities as a matter of priority," she said.

Several editors and reporters working for television channels Bugün TV and Kanaltürk and newspapers Bugün and Millet were fired quickly after the trustees, backed by police teams, took over the management of the outlets this week in one of the worst crackdowns on the media in Turkey's history.

The takeover of the media outlets as well as commercial enterprises owned by Koza İpek Holding has set off a wave of criticism from European politicians.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Friday, Victor Bostinaru, a deputy in the European Parliament (EP) representing the Progressive Alliance of Socialists, said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has demonstrated he has taken the road of autocracy. “In putting further pressure on critical media in the final phase of the campaign, President Erdoğan only confirms one more time he has taken the very dangerous road of autocracy.”

Bostinaru emphasized the importance of the Nov. 1 general election, saying: “The elections on Sunday are crucial for Turkey's future and its European aspirations. I trust Turkish people to choose well. I will also call on all sides to fully respect fundamental freedoms and democracy.”

Cem Özdemir, the co-chairman of the German Green Party, also criticized on Twitter the government-backed operation to take over the management of Koza İpek Holding. Özdemir said President Erdoğan aims to repeat his attempt to silence critical media ahead of the Nov. 1 election.

German Journalists Union (DJV) Head Michael Konken told the Cihan news agency on Friday “Journalists in Turkey are being treated as though they are criminals.”

Police raided the headquarters of the media outlets on Wednesday after the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled on Monday for the takeover of the administration of Koza İpek Holding's companies, which includes critical media outlets, in a government-backed move. The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies, as well as Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, following a physical police intervention in which many journalists and protesters were subjected to excessive police force early on Wednesday.

The trustees stopped Thursday's edition of the two dailies from going to print on Wednesday. A group of police officers also cut the Kanaltürk broadcast after breaking into the holding's headquarters, while another group stormed the production control room of Bugün TV on Wednesday.

The Bugün and Millet dailies published their first editions on Friday after the trustees took over. However, the Friday editions of both papers were full of propaganda reports for the AK Party government and Erdoğan, while there was almost no report on the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) ahead of the Nov. 1 snap election.

Turkish NGOs condemn seizure of İpek Media Group

Turkish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Europe also voiced their criticism of the government's hostile takeover of the İpek Media Group's news outlets, emphasizing the unlawfulness of the process that began with the appointment of trustees to take over the companies on Monday.

“[Appointing trustees for Koza İpek Holding] is definitely a political decision. Even if the holding's situation required the appointment of trustees, [the government] should have elected impartial and credible ones. [However], those who were appointed are from the ‘pool media.' No matter how you look at it, the process is unlawful,” Erol Yazıcıoğlu, the Europe Turkish Union (ATB) head, said.

The popular term “pool media” is used in Turkey to describe pro-government media outlets and refers to the large amounts of money pooled by pro-government businessmen for certain media outlets to allegedly slander opposition voices and magnify the government's actions through lies.

Stating that Erdoğan has lost his impartiality as president, Yazıcıoğlu added the AK Party government is acting on the irrational mentality of “If you don't agree with me, you're a traitor,” which might lead to more forceful seizures of critical media outlets. “It's [the citizens of] our country who are wronged. [The government] treats critical media the way it should have treated terrorist organizations that killed hundreds of people in Turkey but doesn't. If there are claims [that the members of the holding are being unlawful], there are courts to judge them. If this is the way [to deal with claims of criminal acts], then shame on the ‘new Turkey'.”

“New Turkey” is a slogan describing the development of Turkey in the last 13 years under the AK Party rule.

Republican People's Platform (CHP) Köln head Günay Çapan said one of the trustees appointed to Koza İpek Holding is an employee of the pro-government Sabah daily. “It seems that no institution that does not voice pro-AK Party ideas will be allowed to operate,” Çapan added.

Bekir Yilmaz, the chairman of the Berlin Turkish Community (TGB), emphasized that if the critical media, which is the voice of 60 percent of citizens, is silenced, there is a possibility of a civil war erupting in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 October 2015, Friday