November 14, 2015

Turkey G-20 presidency overshadowed by restrictions on media and free enterprise

Hostile restrictions on independent media and the government's intimidation of entrepreneurs known to hold critical views of its policies are corroding Turkey's image as it prepares to host the G-20 summit.

In the “G20 Presidency Priorities for 2015” document prepared by Turkey as the host of the G-20 meeting to be held on Nov. 15-16, emphasis was placed on investment as a driver of global growth. To the dismay of Turkey, the foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow to the country has been falling steadily since 2011, when it was $16.13 billion. This figure shrank to $10.76 billion in 2012, $9.86 billion in 2013 and was just $8.7 billion in 2014.

According to the “Property Rights Index” of the website, Turkey now ranks 25th in Europe, behind countries such as Ireland, Cyprus and Hungary in terms of the degree to which a country's laws protect private property rights.

In late October Koza İpek Holding, whose subsidiaries include the formerly dissident İpek Media Group, was taken over by government-appointed trustees based on the Ankara 5th Penal Court of Peace. Interestingly, the expert opinion, on which the court's decision was based, acknowledged the absence of any faults in the holding's accounting books.

Then there was last week's police raid on a number of unions affiliated with the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), a union comprising 55,000 businessmen members nationwide. Police conducted a search of the offices of three TUSKON member associations in Ankara, which were accused of financing terrorism.

Restrictions imposed on many media outlets, including Today's Zaman, by the Turkish government, attempting to stop them from covering the summit is another setback for Turkey's image ahead of the meeting.

In a written statement on Oct. 28, the Hürriyet daily said hospitality for the G-20 summit would be “overshadowed” if press freedom is curbed and entrepreneurs are intimidated.

“The move that targeted the Koza İpek group immediately before the G-20 summit is especially thought provoking. In a country where the right to property is debatable, free enterprise owners are terrorized and press freedom is regressing, it is inevitable that its hospitality for the G-20 summit will be overshadowed,” the statement continued.

In the latest annual progress report on Turkey released by the EU on Tuesday, the EU called for counter measures against the intimidation of journalists and for investigations into threats and attacks against journalists. However, restrictions on the freedom of the press continue to be a major challenge for journalists to perform their profession in the country, with many forced to attend court based on the perceived ills of their writings or views.

Erdoğan's hosting of G-20 summit

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will host the G-20 summit to be held with the attendance of world leaders to discuss global issues.

However, Turkey was represented at the prime ministerial level in previous G-20 summits. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, as the head of government, had represented Turkey at the G-20 summit in Brisbane last year.

This development did not come as a surprise to many because there have been widespread claims that Erdoğan, who upon assuming the presidency was constitutionally required to cut his ties with his former political party and act impartially, has remained very influential in the party and its internal affairs.

Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Cengiz Aktar, a foreign policy expert, said it is normally the heads of government who represent member countries at G-20 summits. Article 112 of the Constitution states that the prime minister has the responsibility of representing the country.

‘Political issues will be discussed as well'

Speaking on TRT Türk on Tuesday, Davutoğlu said that although the G-20 summit is not a platform for political issues, leaders will discuss political matters that concern the international community as well.

Hosting more than 2 million refugees from Syria and Iraq and facing a growing threat of a dangerous spillover from the conflicts, Turkey wanted the heads of state to also discuss the unrest there, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

“Our inclusion of the issues of Iraq and Syria onto the G-20 agenda is not against the primary objectives of the platform,” Erdoğan said in a business meeting in Ankara on Wednesday.

Upon Turkey's proposal, the agenda of the G-20 summit included a session titled “Terrorism and Refugee Issues.”

In remarks to Sunday's Zaman, Özdem Sanberk, a former diplomat and foreign policy analyst, said it is not uncommon for the states hosting the G-20 summit to propose that attending countries also discuss political issues that concern the international community.

“Twenty prominent countries will convene and hold bilateral talks as well. The Syrian crisis, the biggest humanitarian tragedy since World War II, will be touched on because it has become a global issue,” said Sanberk.

Published on Today's Zaman, 14 November 2015, Saturday