September 3, 2015

CPJ: Turkey’s raid on media group, arrest of British reporters show worsening press freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has criticized a recent government-backed raid on the independent İpek Media Group in Turkey and the arrest of British journalists on terror charges, saying that the moves are a sign of the declining state of press freedom in the country.

“These raids on domestic media and the arrests of foreign reporters are a disturbing indication of the worsening press freedom climate in Turkey,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said in a news alert published on the CPJ's website late on Wednesday. “Covering the political and security upheavals in Turkey and the wider region is not terrorism. Calling it so is using national security as a cloak for censorship,” he added.

Auditors accompanied by a police escort conducted a raid on the offices of Koza İpek Holding in Ankara on Tuesday morning, with simultaneous raids on subsidiaries of the group carried out elsewhere. The Turkish dailies Bugün and Millet, TV stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk and the website are all subsidiaries of the İpek Media Group.

Akın İpek, the owner of the holding, denied the accusations in a written statement on Tuesday, saying that the police had raided his house and even his children's house in the morning, adding that he and his companies were not involved in any illegal or inappropriate acts. “Prosecutors have asked me everything possible over the last two years. There has just been slander in certain [pro-government] media outlets,” İpek said. “I've never even received a traffic ticket,” he added.

Erkan Akkuş, the news editor at Kanalturk and Bugün TV, said the holding company's headquarters and the chairman's home were being searched. "The aim here is to silence the opposition media ahead of the [Nov. 1 general] election," Akkuş told Reuters.

The raids follow terrorism charges leveled against two VICE News journalists who have been detained while reporting from the predominantly Kurdish southeastern part of the country. Turkish authorities arrested the British journalists and a fixer working for the US-based VICE News outlet and charged with them with “aiding a terrorist organization.”

On Wednesday, VICE News reported that the journalists had been moved to a high-security prison several hours away from where their legal team is based. On Tuesday, the CPJ wrote a letter to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, calling on him to ensure that the charges against the journalists are dropped and that they are released immediately.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 September 2015, Thursday