October 28, 2015

Global press associations decry Koza İpek takeover

Global press organizations including the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), PEN International and the International Press Institute (IPI) have decried a government-led takeover of Koza İpek Holding, which owns media outlets that are critical of the interim Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

Turkish media reported on Monday that a trustee will be appointed to replace the existing boards of directors of Koza and its companies, following a ruling by the 5th Ankara Criminal Court of Peace just days before the parliamentary election.

WAN-IFRA said in statement to Today's Zaman that the takeover of Koza İpek Holding by the government “shows clearly that the respect for legal norms is rapidly dissolving.”

The global press organization, which represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, said, “The actions of the state in repressing critical opinion strikes at the very heart of what it is to be a democratic country.”

The statement continued, “We cannot reiterate more clearly the need for independent journalism to be allowed to carry out its essential job without fear of attack or reprisal -- from the state, criminal elements, terrorists or whomsoever.

“While the lack of journalistic freedoms in Turkey has preoccupied and deeply concerned our organisation and its members for a significant amount of time, we are now witnessing the general degradation of broader societal freedoms, a warning that the press in Turkey has been ringing the alarm bell over for a number of years.”

The International Press Institute (IPI), one of the leading international press freedom watchdogs, has said the recent seizure of the Koza İpek group after a government-backed decision is an alarming move.

“This move is alarming, particularly given its timing, and it appears to be another example of the pressure on media that IPI and other press freedom groups warned about during last week's emergency press freedom mission to Turkey,” the IPI said in a statement sent to Today's Zaman.

“Not only does a silencing critical medium on the eve of an election send a chilling message to journalists, it suggests a distrust of voters' ability to filter information and make their own decisions,” the statement said.

PEN International: AK Party and Erdoğan curtailing all kinds of freedoms

Eugene Schoulgin, vice-president of PEN International, said in a statement to Today's Zaman, “Unfortunately, nothing surprises me any more when it comes to today's Turkey!

“This is only another scandalous example of how the present government, the AK party leadership, and the president of Turkey are curtailing all kinds of freedoms which are in opposition to them,” the statement said.

“It is a truly dangerous, depressing and unethical road Turkey is leading into, and my only hope is that the elections on Sunday will show that the Turks are not willing to give the current leadership a new mandate.”

Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, an international free speech advocacy group, told Today's Zaman that “the move against Koza İpek underscores the importance of ensuring freedom of expression in Turkey in the run-up to the elections.

“Article 19 is extremely concerned by the government's attempts to silence critical voices within the media, which clearly violate democratic values. Government interference in the work of news providers is always unacceptable, but it is even more crucial that media remain free during election periods, to provide the electorate with sufficient information to make an informed choice,” he continued.

“The government must refrain from harassing the media, and guarantee the rule of law through court systems that are fully independent of the executive,” Hughes said.

“Any restrictions on freedom of expression must be precisely and narrowly defined. The definitions of ‘terrorism' and ‘supporting terrorism' are still far too broad in Turkish law, leaving scope for the law to be used against media outlets that are critical or oppose government views.”

Head of the German Journalists Union (DJV) Michael Konken said in a statement to Today's Zaman that “unfortunately with these developments the Turkish government has added another action of oppression against independent media.”

Konken stated that the government-led takeover of Koza İpek Holding “constitutes an obstacle” in Turkey's EU ambitions.

Reminding that as the DJV, they have warned EU authorities not to progress in talks with Turkey unless fundamental rights and freedom of speech and media are guaranteed, Konken said, “This country is currently miles and miles away from this.”

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the president of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), said the Turkish authorities "should stop using fake accusations to silence critical media.”

He said the appointment of a trustee to Koza İpek is “an unacceptable violation against press freedom.”

“Just days before an important general election, the latest attack by the interim Turkish government against media outlets owned by Koza İpek Holding must clearly be considered as a politically motivated attack against critical journalists, free speech, private and independent media,” he said.

Jo Glanville, the director of English PEN, said: “This is a direct attack on the independence of the media in Turkey, marking a further dramatic decline for press freedom in the country.

“In the last few days before the elections, it is critical that the Turkish government allows the media to report freely and without intimidation. Turkey is disregarding its international obligations to respect freedom of expression at a time when the role of the press has never been more important.”

The UK-based NUJ told Today's Zaman: “The timing [of the takeover] is of great significance. It will also have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the right to report and other critical media outlets will also feel threatened.

“The episode shows a blatant disregard for established principles of free speech, judicial independence and respect for the rule of law and that Turkey's rulers are turning their backs on democracy.

“It seems that the electoral strategy of the [Justice and Development Party] AK Party is to silence those who oppose them for their own electoral gain and to prevent a proper democratic debate around policies,” the statement continues.

Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) Director Aidan White told Today's Zaman that “it is a hallmark of intolerance and lack of respect for media pluralism when a governing party is allowed to seize control of dissident voices in media.

“Journalists and media who fear they will suffer government interference are often afraid to give voice to critical opinions, particular close to an election,” he said.

“This seizure is designed to stifle political criticism and reinforce the dangerous and fearful atmosphere in which media work. It is a scandal that will only do further damage to Turkey's reputation as a country committed to democracy and respect for human rights,” White added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 October 2015, Tuesday