Media should be reckoned free only when a journalist can ask a question and and then get home untroubled. These are words of Ahmed Davutoglu’s, Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister of Turkey. They very well illustrate the understanding for freedom of expression in Turkey nowadays. The reason for this sharp reaction from Davutoglu became a question by a journalist from “Zaman” newspaper concerning the freedom of expression and its fate since the beginning of May 2014. Freedom House published a report stating that Turkey is “a country with a non-free media”, unlike 2013 when the overall evaluation was “partly free”. Davutoglu, however, is adamant that journalists in Turkey are freer than those working in countries which allegedly guarantee freedom of speech.
Davutoglu’s sharp tone, however, cannot merely compare to that of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Prime Minister from 2002 to 2014). The latter has repeatedly threatened, criticized and insulted journalists during his governance. After the Gezi park protests in 2013, Erdogan declared that the social media is a disaster. He followed the example of China and in the very same year a Turkish court blocked the access to Twitter – an act that in 2014 was followed by a brief ban on YouTube. Nowadays, it is a common practice in Turkey (used by the military and continued by Erdogan) for accreditations to be denied to critical journalists. According to the independent monitoring website Engel web, currently over 67,000 websites are blocked in Turkey.
The authorities in Turkey have a serious issue with anti-government and opposition-minded media and journalists. In contrast, pro-government media, controlled by businessmen close to the government, enjoy their comfort. According to various studies, around 70% of the country’s media are convenient for the authorities.
The pressure on freedom of expression by the government in Turkey is increasing, especially after December 17, 2013, when the world learned about the corruption scandal that affected people close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Raids were organized on opposition media and journalists so that the abuse and the consequences of this huge scandal can be concealed. The authorities took an authoritarian course. A series of police raids on media were held in 2014. The arrests of journalists showed the new approach of the government to those who criticize it.
In 1999 Turkey became a candidate for EU membership and since 2005 negotiations for accession to the EU are in place. Very often in those negotiations Turkey was warned for the state of its freedom of speech. In this respect, the ruling AKP, which was the forefront of the EU course presents a very bleak picture.
70% of Turkey’s media are pro – government
According to “Reporters without borders” from 2005 to 2014, when Prime Minister of Turkey is the current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country dropped with 56 places in the media freedom ranking. In 2005, Turkey was 98th only to find itself in 2014 in 154th place from a total of 180 countries. However, in the 2015 ranking Turkey climbed up the scale a bit reaching 149th place thanks to the conditional release of 40 imprisoned journalists.
Still, the head of the US office of “Reporters without borders” Delphine
Halgand points out that the situation is still not satisfactory, having in mind that compared to the past Turkey imposes increasingly stronger pressure on journalists. Demonstrative detentions of journalists who are wrongly blamed for the creation and maintenance of terrorist organizations became more frequent since December 2014. Such actions aim at the intimidation of critical against the leadership of Erdogan journalists and only confirm Halgand’s allegations.
Coup against the freedom of speech
On December 14, 2014 the chief editor of “Zaman” newspaper Ekrem Dumanli, the General Director of “Samanyolu” TV Hidayet Karaca as well as screenwriters, directors and producers were detained. A total of 31 people were arrested – all were accused of setting up a terrorist group. Ekrem Dumanli was accused based on two comments and an article from 2009 that are not even written by him. The charges against Hidayet Karaca were raised because of popular series broadcasted on his TV. Subsequently Dumanli was banned from leaving the country. His case is still opened. Hidayet Karaca is still in prison.
The coup against the freedom of speech, as was the police action described, took place after the adoption of reforms package that approved the “reasonable assumption” principle in the Internal Security Act. Despite the sharp reaction against the detention of journalists, in late December the Turkish police detained the famous TV presenter Sedef Kabbalah, after she criticized in Twitter the termination of the investigation of the alleged corruption practices of associates of President Erdogan and the sons of former ministers. She is currently in danger of imprisonment for up to five years.
Being in court and jail instead of telling stories
There are currently 120 ongoing cases against 70 journalists who covered the corruption scandal of December 2013. Coercive measures were taken against 217 journalists and a total of 559 media employees were fired. 83 persons were forced to resign. 22 journalists are effectively serving time in the prison and another 61 were ordered to pay compensation to Erdogan for “insult”. The arrested for “insult” of Erdogan are 67 and that is just for the first two months of 2015.
Currently there are 120 cases led against 70 journalists who covered the corruption scandal of December 2013
On March 6, Turkish prosecutor withdrew the charges against the editor of the newspaper “Dzhumhuriyet” Zhang Dyundar. At the end of February he testified in an Istanbul court on charges of “insult” to the Turkish President Erdogan. In Dyundar’s words ending up in the court is already intrinsic to journalism in Turkey.
Among the journalists who were jailed in early March is also Mehmet Baransu who became known for that in 2010 he revealed an alleged coup plot against Erdogan’s government, known as “Operation Sledgehammer”. Baransu is accused of “creating a terrorist organization” and appropriation of documents related to the security of the state. A police anti-terrorism team has ransacked Bransu’s home in Istanbul for 10 hours. Baransu, who works in “Taraf” newspaper, has become a target for the government in Turkey since the corruption scandal of December 2013. Since that date he has been arrested 4 more times on different charges.
Coercion measures were applied against 217 journalists while 559 media employees were fired
The pressure on electronic media is applied not only through the courts, but by the regulatory authority RÜTÜK, where the members appointed by the AKP are a majority. The regulator is mainly imposing financial sanctions and/ or ceases for a particular period the broadcast of a media. Within a period of 10 months the regulator imposed fines amounting to 2.542 million Turkish liras on “Samanyolu” TV station.
Social networks also targeted
According to “Human Rights Watch”, 80 people were subject to legal proceedings due to comments or posts on social media deemed “insulting” to Erdogan. On December 24th last year in the city of Konya a 16-year-old student Mehmet Emin Altunses was arrested for that he allegedly insulted President Erdogan. The young man could receive up to four years in prison if found guilty. Two other trials began in Izmir against 13 people, including 11 high school students, again for insulting Erdogan. Human rights organizations have accused Erdogan of attempts to instill a climate of fear in the country.
80 people are subject of legal proceedings because of comments or posts on social media
Investigation was conducted also against the model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac. She can receive up to two years in prison, again for insulting Erdogan. Buyuksarac was arrested last month for sharing satirical poem in her Instagram profile. She denied having insulted Erdogan.
The famous singer Atilla Tash was also arrested in early March, because of a post on Twitter, that was deemed offensive to the Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu. Tash argued that he did not disseminate insults and slander with that post.
Turkish sociological agency “Gezidzhi” was searched in late February by inspectors from the Ministry of Finance. This happened just two days after the publication of the results of a survey that angered the ruling party. According to the this survey the ruling party’s support is below 40%, which is insufficient for a qualified majority in the parliament that is needed for a change in the state system – from a parliamentary to presidential republic as is Erdogan’s desire.
Striking the balance
Under the authoritarian rule of Erdogan 1863 journalists were fired in the last 12 years. Those numbers are confirmed in a special report of 189 pages by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (RPP), presented at the end of November 2014. 90 per cent of these journalists have lost their jobs after 2011, during the third term of Erdogan, which he defined as “master time”. Among the dismissed there are also many popular journalists.
Over the past 12 years 1863 journalists were fired
According to the Deputy Chairman of the RPP, Veli Agbaba, Turkey is the country where the biggest numbers of journalist were fired. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened journalists openly from the rostrum during his speeches, which was a clear sign of media owners to dismiss the employee concerned.
“Countless insults, threats and lawsuits were directed towards journalists. For the first time a book was depicted as a bomb, and journalists were qualified as terrorists.”, Agbaba indicates.
Agbaba recalls that for the first time the authorities, by creating an unregulated fund (ie. Havuz medyasi), funded by businessmen with 630 million dollars, are buying TV stations, newspapers, radio stations and websites. Today these media are controlled by “commissioners of the government,” pro-government businessman and journalists. So the ruling AKP and Erdogan became the biggest media mogul in Turkey. The difference between Erdogan and his close friend and former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi is that the latter became prime minister after he was already a media mogul, while it is quite the opposite with Erdogan – he became prime minister and only then bought some media.
Author: Tayfur Huseynov