November 17, 2015

Report says press freedom issues in Turkey increasing exponentially

A press freedom report released on Tuesday has underlined that issues pertaining to the deterioration of press freedom in Turkey are increasing “exponentially,” pointing to a controversial decision by a court to appoint trustees to Koza İpek Holding, which owns several media outlets that were critical of the government.

The October report, released by Press for Freedom Project (ÖiB) on Friday, describes the takeover of Koza İpek as a forceful seizure by trustees.

On Oct. 27, an Ankara court ordered the takeover of Koza İpek Holding, which owns the İpek Media Group, appointing trustees to run its five critical media outlets -- Bugün TV, Kanaltürk TV and radio station, and the Bugün and Millet dailies.

On Oct. 28, the broadcast of Bugün TV and Kanaltürk was cut. The trustees who ordered the termination said they did not need to explain themselves because the decision to cancel the broadcast was made with the board of directors.

The channels and dailies were turned into government mouthpieces a short while after their seizure. The ÖiB report highlights that although Koza İpek Holding was allegedly placed in the care of trustees due to financial issues, the subsequent dismissal of 82 journalists and appointment of new pro-government ones to replace them is an issue of concern.

The Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, Shaber and Samanyolu stations have become targets of the government's crackdown because they are seen as affiliated with the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the movement of instigating the massive corruption probes of Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, which implicated ministers in his government and even some of his family members, as part of a plot to overthrow the government.

The ÖiB report, a project of the Journalists Association (GS) and funded by the EU, aims to document violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey in reports issued on a monthly basis.

The report criticized the threats made by a number of pro-government journalists against media outlets critical of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), such as Cem Küçük, who threatened Hürriyet daily columnist Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, a widely read columnist known for his critical stance toward the government, in a column in a September edition of the pro-government Star daily.

“Like a schizophrenic, you think you are still living in the era when Turkey was ruled by the Hürriyet daily. If we [pro-government members of the media] want, we can crush you like a fly. You are still alive because we have shown mercy,” Küçük wrote in his column.

On Oct. 30, Küçük also threatened the Zaman daily and Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation, arguing that the state is going to seize these companies like it did Koza İpek Holding.

Küçük previously called on media mogul Aydın Doğan, owner of the Doğan Media Group, which includes the group's flagship Hürriyet, to dismiss a group of journalists and columnists, including Eyüp Can and Nazlı Ilıcak, and has now asked Ferit Şahenk, Doğuş Group chairman, who owns the mainstream NTV network, to fire Mustafa Karaalioğlu, the head of NTV, and his team.

The report also spoke of the removal of several TV stations, including Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV, Kanaltürk and Samanyolu Haber, from service providers such as Digiturk, Turkcell+, Kablo TV and Teledünya in October.

More recently stations owned by the Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation were removed from the state-owned Türksat satellite at midnight on Saturday. Türksat's controversial move came despite a decision by the Ankara 6th Administrative Court on Friday demanding that it submit to the court “the documents, information and legal evidence” it has to justify the removal. The court also urged Türksat to submit its defense within the required legal period.

The TV and radio stations removed from Türksat are as follows: Samanyolu TV, the Samanyolu Haber news channel, Samanyolu TV Europe, Samanyolu Africa, Mehtap TV, Yumurcak TV, MC TV, Dünya TV, Tuna Shopping TV, Irmak TV, MC EU, Ebru TV, Samanyolu Haber Radio, Burç FM, Radyo Mehtap, Dünya Radyo, Radyo Berfin and Radyo Cihan.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 November 2015, Tuesday