As Erdogan clamps down on Turkey media
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.