May 21, 2015

‘Prosecutor’s attempt to silence critical media an assassination attempt’

A number of civil society groups, media associations and a member of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the state body responsible for monitoring TV stations, have criticized an Ankara prosecutor's controversial request for critical media outlets to be barred from using state-owned communications infrastructure.

The Media Ethics Council (MEK) has also issued a statement, saying that any attempt to deprive people of the right to access information would be a violation of the Constitution.

Speaking with Today's Zaman on Wednesday, RTÜK member Ali Öztunç sharply criticized Ankara Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun for requesting such a ban, saying, "The news that the Ministry [of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications] asked the RTÜK to do whatever is required in line with the prosecutor's request is yet another step towards media censorship." Öztunç stressed that the RTÜK cannot close down a TV station unlawfully because "such practices arerestricted to regimes ruled by dictators. In democracies, TV stations cannot be banned from broadcasting. There is tolerance forall types of criticism and dissenting voices. Such a request is against the Constitution because it constitutes a direct intervention in freedom of the media."

The prosecutor's request -- part of an attempt to create a uniformly pro-government media in support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) -- has also been criticized by many media unions, associations and politicians. Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Altan Tan, also speaking with Today's Zaman, described the request as similar to the practices of dictatorships.

Issuing a statement on Wednesday, Ufuk Uras, the former head of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), said anyone whocomplies with the prosecutor's request would be breaking the law. In addition, former pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Akın Birdal told Today's Zaman that the prosecutor's request is reminiscent of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, which toppled the elected government.

True Path Party (DYP) spokesperson and Deputy Chairman Kemal Abdullahoğlu also lashed out at the prosecutor and the government, telling Today's Zaman that they should stop putting pressure on independent media outlets.

In a written statement, the MEK emphasized that the right to access information is protected by the law, the Constitution and international treaties. "Any step that contradicts this principle would be irregular and illegal. The prosecutor's request is an assassination attempt against media freedom," the statement said.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Oktay Vural called the prosecutor's request an attempted coup. "A prosecutor's task is to protect the law, not to abuse it for political purposes. Dealing a blow to media freedom means dealing a blow to people's freedom, which creates enemies. They [the government] are aiming to manipulate society by breeding bad blood. This has no place in the law. This ban does not serve democracy," he said to Today's Zaman.

The prosecutor's request is believed to be the latest move in an ongoing campaign conducted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party against the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement. Public Prosecutor Coşkun sent a document to the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT) on April 27, asking it to prevent a state-owned satellite connection from being used by certain media outlets. Turkish media have reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of an investigation into claims about the “parallel structure” and targets media outlets affiliated to the Gülen movement. The “parallel structure” is a term invented by Erdoğan to refer to members of the Gülen movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The controversial and unconstitutional move by the prosecutor, which comes shortly before June's general election, is alleged to been launched because anti-government media outlets have been "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 because most of the media in Turkey, controlled by the AK Party government, provides little or no coverage of the election campaigns of opposition parties.

Published on Today's Zaman, 20 May 2015, Wednesday