April 13, 2016

EP Turkey report slams media takeovers, calls for restoration of managements

An annual progress report on Turkey that will be voted on by the European Parliament (EP) on Thursday calls on Turkish authorities to remove government-backed managers assigned to media groups recently seized and to reappoint journalists fired for their dissatisfaction over the government takeover.

“The European Parliament … calls for the independence of the media of Koza İpek Holding and the Doğan and Feza media groups to be restored and for all government representatives to be removed from the boards of directors, for the dozens of sacked employees who expressed their dissatisfaction at the government takeover to be reappointed, and for the charges of terrorism to be withdrawn,” the draft report that will be debated by EP lawmakers on Wednesday. The report will be voted on on Thursday.

Condemning “the violent and illegal takeover of several Turkish newspapers, including Zaman most recently,” the report also expressed concern about the decision of Digiturk, allegedly based, inter alia, on political grounds, to stop transmitting television channels. It calls on the Turkish Government to end the political and economic pressure on independent media, strongly condemning verbal and physical attacks and the increasing use of defamation and anti-terror legislation against journalists.

In October of last year, Turkey witnessed the firing of hundreds of journalists after appointment of a panel of trustees to the İpek Koza Holding company in a government-backed move, which apparently aimed to intimidate independent journalists and attracted widespread negative reaction.

The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies and the channels Bugün TV and Kanaltürk early on Oct. 28 when police forcibly entered the broadcasting headquarters of the media group, during which journalists and protesters claimed they were subjected to police brutality. The trustees immediately fired dozens of journalists from the group and turned the news outlets, which used to have a critical stance, into government mouthpieces. The outlets were later shut down.

In a similar vein, hundreds of journalists critical of the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regime have been fired from their jobs after government-backed trustees took over the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies earlier in March after violent police raid.

The EP report said it “deplores the serious backsliding, over the past two years, on freedom of speech, expression and opinion both online and offline in Turkey, which is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.”

Recalling that according to the Turkish authorities’ own figures, Turkey is the country which holds the record for the highest number of journalists behind bars, the draft report reiterates that freedom of opinion, expression and speech, including independent media, are core European values.
Calling for the immediate release of all jailed journalists, the report said it deplores the personal attacks by leading government officials against journalists and opponents, and the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the Turkish leadership.

“[The European Parliament] … urges Turkey to act against intimidation of journalists in all its forms, in particular by investigating all physical attacks and threats against journalists and actively preventing attacks against media outlets, but also by defusing the tense political climate which creates an environment curtailing freedom of speech in the media and on the internet,” it said.

The draft also stresses that EU-Turkey cooperation on migration should be uncoupled from the EU accession negotiating process and flags areas that are lagging behind in the reform process, such as the rule of law, freedom of expression and fundamental values.

Anti-corruption fight

The draft also notes the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 released by Transparency International on 27 January 2016, which shows an increase in corruption in Turkey during the past year and which now ranks Turkey 66th; underlines the need for the Turkish Government to send out clear and consistent signals that it is truly intent on combating corruption at all levels of power. Recalling that fight against corruption should be one of Turkey’s priorities, the draft calls on Turkey therefore to update the anti-corruption strategy and action plan, to establish an independent anti-corruption body and to build a credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions, including high-level cases.

Published on Turkish Minute, 13 April 2016, Wednesday