As Er­do­gan clamps down on Tur­key media

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has been in the news re­cently for all the wrong rea­sons with its heavy-handed crack down on the coun­try’s press. Since the in­con­clu­sive elec­tions held in the coun­try last June in which Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyib Er­do­gan’s Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party, bet­ter known as AKP, lost its par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, the gov­ern­ment has been crack­ing down very hard on the mass media, which it ap­pears to blame for its po­lit­i­cal set­backs.

Among the many vic­tims of the crack­down was Ah­met Hakan Cokun , a colum­nist for Hür­riyet, who was as­saulted in front of his house on Oct. 1. Cokun has been re­ceiv­ing threats from pro-gov­ern­ment out­lets for ex­press­ing views crit­i­cal views of AKP. Other vic­tims of the crack­down have been Cemil Bar­las and Latif Er­doan, who were ac­cused of in­sult­ing Na­tion­al­ist Move­ment Party (MHP) stanbul deputy Meral Akener in a TV show in May. A pros­e­cu­tor in Is­tan­bul has also launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into To­day’s Za­man Editor-in-Chief Bü­lent Kene. He is ac­cused of “in­sult­ing” Pres­i­dent Er­doan in 14 re­cent tweets that he made.

In yet another in­ci­dent last June, an Ankara pe­nal court of peace sen­tenced Kene to a 21-month sus­pended sen­tence af­ter con­vict­ing him of in­sult­ing Er­doan in a mes­sage that he sent in July of last year. The daily news­pa­per Hur­riyet was also at­tacked twice by pro-AKP mobs while nu­mer­ous web­sites are be­ing blocked by the gov­ern­ment. Among them is DIHA news agency’s web­site, which was blocked by the Turk­ish Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity (TIB) with­out any form of ju­di­cial re­view.

As part of its clam­p­down against online op­po­si­tion, the gov­ern­ment re­cently en­acted a re­cent law that al­lows it to block un­de­sired blogs and so­cial media sites.

Jour­nal­ism is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous in Tur­key as the gov­ern­ment clamps down on the media cov­er­ing sto­ries it wants ig­nored through threats, raids, ar­rests and de­por­ta­tion.

And just weeks be­fore another gen­eral elec­tion in Tur­key, Er­do­gan’s crack­down has made a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive against Kur­dish sep­a­ratists very dif­fi­cult to cover. Another gen­eral elec­tion is billed to hold on Novem­ber 1 be­cause the June 7 vote pro­duced a hung par­lia­ment af­ter AKP lost its out­right ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment for the first time in 13 years.

The for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Er­doan, who is cur­rently pres­i­dent of Tur­key, has shown him­self to be in­tol­er­ant of media crit­i­cism. Even though his new role as Pres­i­dent is sup­posed to be sym­bolic and apo­lit­i­cal and he should no longer be af­fil­i­ated to any po­lit­i­cal party, Er­doan has been cam­paign­ing for AKP de­spite the law that binds him to re­frain from do­ing so.

Al­ready, the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (IFJ), the Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (EFJ), the In­ter­na­tional Trade Union Con­fed­er­a­tion (ITUC) as well as the Euro­pean Trade Union Con­fed­er­a­tion (ETUC) have all joined forces to sound the alarm over re­stric­tions on media free­dom in Tur­key.

In a joint let­ter, the four fed­er­a­tions called for ur­gent re­forms to en­sure that Tur­key’s media is able to re­cover its po­si­tion as an ef­fec­tive pro­fes­sion that is in­de­pen­dent, plu­ral­is­tic and in the ser­vice of the public in­ter­est.

Jour­nal­ism’s cen­tral role in a democ­racy is to hold gov­ern­ment to ac­count by regularly and in­de­pen­dently chal­leng­ing it on its per­for­mance and records. A gov­ern­ment that re­sponds to this with hos­til­ity and pros­e­cu­tions is it­self a dan­ger to democ­racy.

Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s con­tro­ver­sial ban­ning of Twit­ter, for ex­am­ple, would prove to be fu­tile in such a “tech savvy” coun­try and will only fuel the cir­cu­la­tion of ru­mours. Er­do­gan had also threat­ened in the past to block Face­book and YouTube, ac­tions which are illegal un­der Turk­ish law. His ac­tions are tar­nish­ing the im­age of Tur­key’s elec­tions due in Novem­ber. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment should end the re­stric­tions and per­se­cu­tions of the media forth­with and should also cease public at­tacks on jour­nal­ists that ques­tion or crit­i­cize its per­for­mance in of­fice, since that is the media’s pri­mary duty in a democ­racy. The cur­rent cli­mate of media per­se­cu­tion will erode con­fi­dence in Tur­key’s demo­cratic gains and move it back to­wards the old or­der of au­toc­racy and dic­ta­tor­ship in which there will be no room for cri­tique, dis­sent or ac­count­abil­ity. Lack of re­spect for free­dom of speech sends a chill­ing mes­sage to the rest of the so­ci­ety that crit­i­cism will not be tol­er­ated.

Tur­key is a coun­try much ad­mired in this part of the world for its glo­ri­ous history and also for its rapid eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment in re­cent decades. We urge Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyib Er­do­gan not to dam­age this glo­ri­ous rep­u­ta­tion through his in­tol­er­ance to press free­dom.

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