November 22, 2015

Senior CHP official says pressure on media in Turkey is ‘terrorism’

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Enis Berberoğlu has said that the government's pressure on the media and its use as a tool to eliminate political rivals is an act of terrorism.

Speaking during a meeting in Ankara at the weekend, Berberoğlu, a former journalist, said: "The use of the media as a weapon of destruction against political and commercial rivals is a merciless action that cannot even be compared with those of the terrorists in the mountains; it is a terror crime."

Many commentators have said that pressure on journalists has reached alarming levels over the past few years in Turkey. The government regularly launches cases against journalists for their critical views or on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or government officials. Dozens of journalists are currently facing trial on charges of defaming government officials and the Turkish president.

In recent months, nearly 1,000 journalists have lost their jobs due to government pressure on their media organizations, which have been forcefully prevented from performing their journalistic activities. In a recent example, trustees appointed to Koza İpek Holding as part of a government-backed operation in late October fired 172 more journalists from the İpek Media Group on Friday, adding to the dozens of others who had already been dismissed after the seizure.

Earlier last week, 80 journalists working for the Bugün and Kanaltürk TV stations, which are part of the İpek Media Group, were fired after the channels were dropped by the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) from its infrastructure in a government-orchestrated crackdown on critical media last Monday. More than 300 journalists have been fired from the İpek Media Group so far.

Following the seizure of İpek Media Group, 14 TV channels and several radio stations of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group were removed from Türksat on Nov. 15 in a politically motivated move. Some 800 Samanyolu employees have so far lost their jobs. The broadcast of the TV stations, known for their critical stance toward the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, were halted by Türksat because of a “legal obligation” to an order from a prosecutor's office based on the suspicion that the channels support a terrorist organization.

Media outlets have reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of an investigation into outlets allegedly affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement. Türksat dropped these media outlets despite having signed an agreement with Samanyolu Broadcasting Group that necessitated service being provided until 2024.

In a similar vein, in early October, the Digiturk satellite network, announced that it had stopped broadcasting the aforementioned TV stations in addition to the Bugün TV and Kanaltürk TV channels, following a request from a prosecutor. Turkcell TV+, an online TV streaming service from Internet provider Superonline, and Tivibu, another service provided by TTNet, previously announced it had also removed the stations in question from their platforms on the order of the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office on the suspicion that the channels were supporting a terrorist organization.

The Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, Shaber and Samanyolu channels have become targets of the government's crackdown because they are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement, a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. President Erdoğan accuses the movement of instigating the massive corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, which implicated ministers in his government and even some of his family members, as part of a plot to overthrow the government.

In the meantime, new columnists are being employed to replace those fired from the Millet and Bugün dailies, which have been turned into government mouthpieces after their seizure. Both dailies have experienced a tremendous fall in their circulation after the appointments changed their editorial policies.

One columnist newly employed by Millet is Muharrem Coşkun. Coşkun gained fame as the first and only journalist who was able to interview Halis Bayancuk, the Turkish leader of the radical terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Bayancuk is known by the code name "Abu Hanzala" in ISIL.

The interview was published by the Star daily on Dec. 21, 2014. In the interview, Bayancuk denied his ties with ISIL and claimed police operations against him were sparked due to his criticism of Gülen.

However, when Bayancuk was detained in a police operation against ISIL in July, Star announced the news with the headline "Figure who threatened Turkey is detained."

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 22 November 2015, Sunday