January 14, 2016

US consul general pays courtesy visit to Today’s Zaman

US Consul General in İstanbul Charles F. Hunter has visited Today's Zaman headquarters in İstanbul, congratulating Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarçeşme on her newly appointed post and emphasizing that US support for freedom of expression and the press will continue.

Charles F. Hunter, US Consul General in İstanbul, visited Today's Zaman headquarters in İstanbul

Hunter visited the building that also houses the Zaman daily as well as a couple of other subsidiaries of Feza Publications Inc. with two of his staff from the consulate. The US delegation met with Akarçeşme, Zaman's Editor-in-Chief Abdülhamit Bilici, Foreign News Editor Mustafa Edib Yılmaz and Today's Zaman columnist and former Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş for a meeting that lasted more than an hour.

At a time when Turkey is deviating from the path of democracy and rule of law at a fast pace, the main topic of the discussions during the meeting gravitated towards violations of press freedom. The US delegation listened carefully to details of the threats faced by independent media in Turkey, in particular the Zaman group, which were shared by journalists at the meeting. The visiting group was surprised upon hearing that Akarçeşme had recently been given a seventeen-and-a-half-month suspended sentence because of a comment someone else left under one of her Twitter posts.

Hunter also reacted against certain government circles' attempts to justify the arrest of Turkish journalists for publishing state documents by referencing how the US authorities have dealt with journalism based on Wikileaks and disclosures by Edward Snowden. He said not a single journalist has faced an investigation because of publishing documents released by either of the two in the US, emphasizing that judicial processes were launched only against civil servants who handed those documents to third parties when they were actually obliged to protect them. He said journalists who reported on leaked documents were just doing their job.

The Zaman Media Group as a whole has been under systematic pressure from the government for more than two years. The newspaper building was raided by the police on Dec. 14, 2014 and Zaman's former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı was detained. Similarly, Today's Zaman's Keneş was also detained after being taken from the same building and then arrested last October. The group is currently facing more than a thousand lawsuits made by government figures against its reporters. Further discrimination made by the government against the group includes the fact that its journalists are not allowed to attend any official events and that top officials have publicly called for people not to buy any of its papers.

Although the Zaman Media Group has been in the spotlight over the past year, the unprecedented pressure on media is not limited to these papers.

The persecution of journalists has become the rule rather than the exception with 30 journalists currently in jail. Advertisers are often placed under pressure not to place ads with critical media organs, which is the mildest form of sanctions against critics. Thousands of reporters have become unemployed as a result of government interference.

Similar to Zaman, the İpek Media Group was also subjected to a crack down last October, which ended in the group's newspapers and TV channels being taken over by government-appointed trustees and their media stance being reversed so as to side with the government.

Published on Today's Zaman, 14 January 2016, Thursday