October 24, 2015

AKP’s palace team steamrolls parliamentary team’s defense of press rights

Even though both acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu promised that the media would not be silenced without a court order, the presidency’s men on the Türksat board of directors were able to remove critical media channels from broadcast.

With four of its seven board members known to be trusted lieutenants of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s satellite operator Türksat decided to remove from its broadcast a number of channels critical of the government. Türksat has thus joined a growing political censorship bandwagon, with digital satellite platform Teledünya, cable provider Digiturk, online TV streamer Turkcell TV+ and Treasury-backed Tivibu all having already cut seven opposition networks – Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, Samanyolu TV, S Haber, Mehtap TV, Irmak TV and the children’s channel Yumurcak TV.

Earlier comments made by both acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, speaking against such practices, reveal just how much control the presidential palace has on the prime minister.

Speaking on pro-government news channel ATV on May 20, 2015, Davutoğlu had completely rejected allegations that critical media would be silenced.

“Such a thing is out of the question at the moment. There are no such plans. Besides, you’ll notice that those outlets continued broadcasting after the Dec. 17-25 corruption probes,” said Davutoğlu, referring to an investigation into wide-scale government corruption, which was made public in December 2013. The government claims that the probe was a coup plot by the Hizmet Movement established by the followers of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

“However, I should note that nobody is above the law in Turkey. If a legal procedure is completed – as in, not a prosecutor’s statement or memorandum, but the entire legal procedure is completed – then that decision binds everyone. There is no such thing as this profession or this circle are free from legal decisions. The prosecutor might have an allegation, but it’s the prosecutors who have to investigate that, to prepare an indictment, to complete the legal process. When the legal process is completed, then what needs to be done will be done,” he added.

Then-Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made similar comments. Speaking at a press conference following a European Commission meeting, the minister remarked: “No member of the judiciary can make a decision to silence opposition media, nor can they issue such an order.”

Yet despite these comments, bureaucrats had no problem removing Kanaltürk and Bugün TV from Türksat without any legal decision. Last week, Türksat even issued a notice informing the channels that they had one month to conclude their broadcasts, after which period their contracts would be terminated.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Bülent Kuşoğlu has argued that the presidential palace clearly exerts control over the prime minister.

“It is out of the question for the prime minister to perform his duty, to exert his authority and responsibility. We see this in many cases, such as operations being conducted without his knowledge. He’s not privy to information he should be receiving. And we see that he’s in a psychological rut,” said Kuşoğlu.

“Authority now rests with the president. With the prime minister relinquishing his authority, the system and the mechanism broke down. The system no longer works. Bureaucrats now do what they want without regard for the law. There is arbitrary rule and lawlessness,” he added.

“There is no longer any citizen by the name of Prime Minister Davutoğlu,” said CHP Parliamentary Group Deputy Chair Levent Gök. “He isn’t a part of anything. He’s been crushed under Turkey’s problems. Nobody listens to what he says, nor do they care about his opinions.”

Gök added that right now the entire cabinet and bureaucracy were under the control of the president, “Davutoğlu is an ineffectual man. Davutoğlu isn’t even informed of what is going on, he learns of many things after the fact.”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) secretary general İsmet Büyükataman said that ever since his appointment to the office, the prime minister has been under the control of the presidency.

“He’s more of a civil servant who receives orders directly from the presidential palace, who behaves according to their directives, who conducts his affairs the way they want him to. There is no value left in the institution of the prime minister. Authority has been seized. The system is over. We’ve already transitioned to a president system, it’s now the parliament’s job to simply change the laws accordingly,” says Büyükataman.

Pro-Kurdish, left wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Deputy Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat agrees. “We’ve become a de facto presidential system. The prime minister no longer has any authority. Turkey no longer has a parliamentary system. The president already announced that we were now a presidential system. And he’s directly enforcing it too, so all orders and directives come straight from the palace. The bureaucracy listens to the president, not the prime minister,” said Fırat.

Published on BGNNews, 24 October 2015, Saturday