November 4, 2015

EU warns AK Party gov’t over restrictions on media freedom

The European Union's enlargement commissioner has voiced a sharp warning to Turkish authorities to respect media freedom, stating the intimidation of journalists will jeopardize the country's long-sought ambition to join the EU.

Speaking at a conference on media freedom in Brussels on Wednesday, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Johannes Hahn said the EU has not lost its interest on the subject of media freedom in the Western Balkans and Turkey.

"There, we have seen worrying developments in the last weeks in the run-up to the elections, such as the intimidation of journalists in various forms. Let me be very clear: Freedom of media is at the core of the EU integration process and is not negotiable," Hahn said.

"A deteriorating media situation impacts the overall readiness of the accession country to join the European Union," Hahn added.

His swift warning came after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) underlined serious media restrictions in Turkey in the run-up to Sunday's election.

Last week, backed by riot police in a raid at dawn, government-appointed trustees seized the Koza İpek media company critical of the government and president. After the seizure, the newspapers and television channels shifted to a pro-government stance under the management of trustees who sacked dozens of journalists and employees, including editor-in-chiefs.

The Nov. 1 general election was marked by a challenging security environment, incidents of violence and restrictions against the media, according to international election observers.

Presenting a report at a news conference in Ankara on Monday, Andreas Gross, the head of the PACE delegation, said “unfortunately, the campaign for these elections was characterized by unfairness and, to a serious degree, fear,” according to a press statement on the website of the OSCE.

“In light of this, it is even more vital that the president works for an inclusive political process to deal with the problems facing Turkey, ensuring that all voices, including those who lost these elections, are able to be heard,” he added.

The tone of criticism in the post-election period marks a departure from the EU's recent attitude toward Turkey as it delayed the release of its progress report so as not to antagonize the Turkish authorities ahead of the election as the EU desperately needs Ankara's cooperation to stem the tide of refugee comings.

For quite some time, senior EU leaders have lowered the tone of their criticism regarding the dismal state of media freedom and the rule of law in Turkey, even meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Oct. 5 in Brussels to lay out the framework for a broad cooperation to solve the refugee crisis.

On Sunday, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regained its parliamentary majority with a landslide victory, getting near half of the vote with 49 percent, despite predictions and forecasts by majority of the polls conducted before the election.

The EU leaders were quick to congratulate Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his party following the victory.

"Although these elections took place in a difficult security environment, and against the background of an increasingly restrictive media situation, I welcome the fact that voters were given a real choice of competitive and credible political alternatives," European Council President Donald Tusk said in a letter to Davutoğlu.

"The high voter turnout is testament to the active participation of the Turkish population in the country's democratic life," he said in the letter.

He also voiced his expectation that the government will show any effort needed to "build confidence in the society, strengthen the rule of law and fundamental freedoms and engage constructively with the political opposition."

Tusk said he is looking forward to hold discussions to advance cooperation between Turkey and the EU regarding the urgent refugee crisis.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks and Vice President of the European Parliament Ulrike Lunacek were also present at the conference on Wednesday's conference.

Muiznieks said government institutions in Turkey are very intolerant of criticism as people are detained even for tweeting. He said there have been requests from the Turkish authorities to shut down 700 Twitter accounts, a figure that reveals the pattern toward social media.

Lunacek said the fair election in Turkey were hindered. "The raid of a critical media by police, and then turning them to propaganda tools [for the government] must be criticized severely," Lunacek said in her call on journalists to remain critical and investigative while conducting their jobs.

US-based NPC calls on gov't to protect press freedom

The National Press Club expressed deep concerns that the Oct. 28 raid on the Koza İpek media group in Ankara is politically motivated and is another sign of the deteriorating press freedom in Turkey.

An Ankara court recently ordered the seizure of the company's assets as part of an ongoing investigation that accuses it of financing terrorism and promoting terrorism propaganda.

“This isn't the first time the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has clamped down on news media in the country,” said NPC President John Hughes. “We are deeply concerned this pattern shows a continued disregard for a free and independent press that are cornerstones of democracy and a civil society.”

Published Today's Zaman, 4 November 2015, Wednesday