Global Independent Analytics
Miray Aslan
Miray Aslan

Location: Turkey

Specialization: Media, Politics

TURKISH PRESS AND THE TURKISH "PRESSIDENT" ERDOGAN

Erdogan, the Turkish President who was supposed to lead the country, has chosen to bear against journalists, media outlets and press members, therefore becoming the "Pressident".

In Turkey, conditions of media freedom and freedom of expression evidently deteriorated over the last years. Many journalists have been arrested, killed, wounded by governmental powers. Verbal attacks on journalists by politicians were followed by harassments. The authorities  used to crack down on journalists and media outlets by using the penal code, criminal defamation laws and the antiterrorism law. Meanwhile, amendments placed journalism under an unprecedented siege. In February 2014, an amendment to the law expanded the Telecommunication Authority’s right to order the blocking of websites without court authorization should they reveal private or 'insulting' content. The law also made censorship much easier.

The Turkish government plays the economic card to keep  media owners "under control". Dozens of journalists who were criticizing governmental policies lost their jobs due to pressure of the government. The Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK), Turkey's broadcast regulator, now has the authority to restrict broadcasters via a publication ban and can place a high fine if they are not in line with the laws. The Ankara Chief Prosecution issues notices to TURKSAT (Turkish Communication Satellites) to take off air anti-governmental television networks.  The media outlet focusing on the Kurdish question, IMC TV, was taken off air on charge of "propagandizing for PKK" in February. TURKSAT and Turkey’s leading digital platform Digiturk,  have also cut off the broadcast of channels such as Samanyolu TV, Samanyolu Haber, Kanaltürk, Mehtap TV, Bugün TV, Yumurcak TV, Irmak TV and Burç FM which are affiliated with Gulen movement. This was part of the crackdown against the "parallel state".

"PARALLEL STATE" INVESTIGATIONS AND THE MEDIA

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement - a transnational religious movement - have long maintained an alliance sharing a similar religious ideology for more than ten years. The disagreement between the movement and the government started when the leader of the movement, the Turkish Islamic Scholar Fettulah Gulen, criticized  the government's policies regarding the Gezi Park protests.

Tensions escalated after Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Gulen movement of trying to bring down the government through its influence over the judiciary in order to cause a governmental corruption scandal. The Gulen movement was declared a terrorist organization, and labeled as a “parallel state" by Erdogan.

Pressure was placed by Erdogan on the United States to deport the movement’s leader, Fettulah Gulen, who has been residing in Pennsylvania since 1999. Gulen has been given the first place on Turkey’s terrorists list. At the same time, Gulen’s affiliated companies were accused of being part of a terrorist organization.  The accused bodies include media conglomerates such as Koza Ipek Holding and Feza Publications – owners of the popular daily Zaman,  its English-language sister Today's Zaman, the Cihan News Agency and Aksiyon magazine.

In November, two days before the parliamentary elections, Turkish courts approved the seizure of several newspapers and two television channels owned by Koza Ipek Holding. On March 4, 2016 the Feza Media group was seized by the authorities.

Demonstrators trying to prevent the police from entering Zaman’s premises were beaten and teargassed. The day after the seizure, the papers were immediately resurrected as pro-government publications. Earlier news from the Zaman website is inaccessible for now. A former Zaman journalist published a new daily named "Yarına Bakış" -which means "Look to Tomorrow"- and has more than a billion followers already.

This was the second time the Zaman daily was targeted by  government-orchestrated raids. On December 14, 2015 the police raided the Zaman headquarters detaining a total of 31 suspects, including Zaman's former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı.

"YOU ARE THE TERRORIST"   

Two journalists from the opposition Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, who published on May 29, 2015 a report headlined "Here are the weapons Erdogan claims does not exist", have been arrested.  They accused Turkey of supporting Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad. The report  and photos clearly proved that trucks sent by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) were illegally taking arms to Syria. The two journalist were accused of "spying", "propagandizing terror", and "revealing confidential information". Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan named the report a "betrayal" and said “I guess the person who made this special news will heavily pay for it". He claimed the trucks were carrying aid to the Turkmen, a Turkic minority in Northern Syria.  Moreover, the President had personally filed a criminal complaint and requested the sentencing of journalist Can Dundar for life.

The two imprisoned journalists applied to the Constitutional Court on this case. The basic function of the Constitutional Court, among others, is to examine the constitutionality of a given governmental action. The amendment to the constitution of 2010 has a provision for the right of of citizens to file an individual application to the Constitutional Court as a matter of a constitutional right. "Everyone may apply to the Constitutional court on grounds that one of the fundamental rights or freedoms, within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights, have been violated by public authorities”, the amendment stated.

The Constitutional Court’s General Assembly has decided that the imprisonment of the two journalists was a violation of rights, and delivered the opinion that "freedom of press and of expression, and the right to personal security have been violated".

On February 26, 2016 journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul were released from prison. It was the same day Erdogan celebrated his birthday. After the release, Dundar told reporters who were waiting outside the prison: "We wish President Erdogan a happy birthday. I was arrested on my wedding anniversary and our release is my birthday present to him." Dundar and Gul emphasized that the Court's decision was historic in terms of press freedom  and freedom of expression in Turkey.

On the other hand , Erdogan said in a press conference: "I will remain silent regarding the decision the court has given. But I don't need to accept it, I want to make that clear. I don't obey or respect the decision". Columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak from the pro-government Yeni Akit daily argued in a column that the Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül may be re-arrested at any time.

Journalist Can Dundar, wrote a column two days after his release with the headline "You are the terrorist". In the article Dundar thanked the president because after they were arrested the world finally gave more attention to their report on the Turkish trucks headed to Syria, which revealed the proof of Erdogan "supporting the terrorists".

WARNING!

The news about journalism under siege seems have become a never ending story as soon as Erdogan became the Pressident. I am going to end my article with another simple example.

In a discussion program called The Neutral Zone (Tarafsız Bölge) broadcasted on CNN Türk on October 14, 2015  the chairman of the Diyarbakır Bar Association Tahir Elçi said "I do not regard PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) as a terrorist organization" (as the government describes it).  He was subsequently arrested by the Turkish authorities. After his release, he was killed in Diyarbakır during a press conference in which he invited the Turkish government and Kurdish forces to restart a negotiation process to end the Kurdish issue.  The Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said "The death of Elci may have been caused by him getting caught in an exchange of fire during clashes between the police and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and whomever is responsible is going to pay the price”.  However, Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP), cast doubt on whether those responsible would be exposed. Elci’s brother Ahmet was convinced that the lawyer had been a target. “As a Kurdish intellectual, he was slain by the state. We have seen this state murdering Kurdish intellectuals throughout history. But we will not give up and we will win”, he said.

In a different case, the presenter of the program The Neutral Zone and the Hürriyet daily columnist,  Ahmet Hakan, has been targeted by politically-motivated threats and was injured after an assault in front of his home. Finally the channel CNN Türk was given a publication ban by the Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK) due to broadcasting the sentence of Tahir Elçi. That was a clear warning for those who may speak on TV expressing anti-government sentiments, for those who may present any anti-governmental programs and for any channel that may broadcast such programs. 

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