November 16, 2015

Samanyolu to launch legal fight against removal from Türksat

Following the removal of more than a dozen television and radio channels owned by the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) despite a court order blocking the move, the group will take the issue to Turkey's and the EU's top courts.

“We have a strong team of lawyers. They are working to take the issue to the Constitutional Court,” Samanyolu Haber news channel Editor-in-Chief Metin Yıkar told the Zaman daily on Monday. Should the broadcasting group fail to get a reversal of the government-backed removal, it will bring the issue before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

“As long as the rule of law is in place in the world, we will continue to fight against this injustice,” Yıkar added.

The broadcast of the TV channels and radio stations were stopped by Türksat as of 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.

Describing the removal as an arbitrary move without solid legal ground, Yıkar said, “This is an operation aimed at commercially destroying the group.”

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.

The group's leading television channels -- Samanyolu TV and the Samanyolu Haber news channel -- were already removed based on a request by a prosecutor along with independent television channels from other platforms in the recent past.

In a similar vein, the Digiturk satellite network announced in early October that it had stopped broadcasting the aforementioned TV stations in addition to the Bugün TV and Kanaltürk TV channels based on a request by a prosecutor.

Turkcell TV+, an online TV streaming service from Internet provider Superonline, and Tivibu, another service provided by TTNet, had also previously announced they had removed the stations in question from their platforms on the order of the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office on the suspicion that the channels were supporting a terrorist organization.

The removal from all these platforms is commercially a major blow to the group because they are the major platforms through which television stations reach the public. Noting that the removal makes the channels commercially unworthy of being included in rating measurements, Yıkar said: “Ad-givers would no longer give you commercials. And commercials are the only source of income for television channels.”

Türksat dropped these media outlets despite having signed an agreement with the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group that necessitated service being provided until 2024.

The president of the Media Ethics Council (MEK), Halit Esendir, has accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of discriminating against the Samanyolu Brodcasting Group. In a written press statement on Monday, Esendir described the move as silencing the critical media and criticized the arbitrary removal, saying: “The public is being denied freedom of information. It is being obliged to a single view [broadcast by pro-government channels].”

The broadcasting group is among the few media outlets in Turkey that are critical of the government.

Turkish media have reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of a criminal investigation into media outlets close to the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet (service) movement.

‘No functioning democracy without opposition'

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairwoman Selin Sayek Böke has denounced the removal as censorship.

Noting that the move represents a loss for democracy in Turkey, Böke told the Cihan news agency on Monday, “A democracy without any opposition would no longer be a functioning democracy.”

According to CHP deputy Aykut Erdoğdu, the government's oppression of critical media outlets reveals the fear it feels because of the sweeping corruption charges that implicated senior government officials in December 2013. “As far as I can understand, they are trying to make people forget Dec. 17 and 25,” Erdoğdu told reporters in Parliament on Monday.

Following the two graft probes that went public on Dec. 17 and 25 in 2013, four then-Cabinet ministers left their posts. Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now president, has also been accused of being the top suspect in the corruption investigation.

Noting that major media outlets through which opposition parties get the chance to get their message through to the pubic find themselves subject to government pressure, Erdoğdu added, “Let the government know that it is just digging its own grave deeper [by so doing].”

Following the corruption scandal in December 2013, the AK Party government described the probes as a coup plot against the government, while accusing the Gülen movement of being behind the probes. The Samanyolu media group's channels continue with their broadcasts by way of the Internet and Hot Bird satellite but can only reach a small number of people.

‘People don't care about media freedom'

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, the former president of the Ankara-based Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (Mazlumder), underlined that freedom of the press is going from bad to worse in Turkey when speaking about the general public's indifference to the issue.

He told Cihan on Monday: “It is unfortunately that a mere 5 percent [of the population] attaches importance to freedoms. People don't place much importance on the freedoms and democracy much cherished by intellectuals.”

More than 800 of the employees of the Samanyolu group will lose their jobs because the group needs to downsize to survive without as much income.

Yasin Akça, who is part of the editing team in Samanyolu TV, is to marry next week. Noting that he found himself in a financially difficult situation because of the removal of the channel from Türksat, he said in remarks to Cihan, “If I had known, I would have put off my marriage.”

But still, he keeps his spirits high. “We will get over these difficulties,” he added.

Kerim Saat, a sports reporter for the same channel, got married last week. He rented an apartment just across from the channel's broadcasting building so that he could easily get to work without worrying about traffic.

“Each time I leave home I will see the Samanyolu [building], but will not be able to enter. That will make me particularly upset,” he told Cihan.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 November 2015, Monday