We are in the last two weeks of the campaign for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Turkey and pressure on media outlets and on individual journalists has already reached unprecedented levels.
In addition to increasingly draconian and highly-politicized regulatory and legal measures, the governing party politicians are now speaking directly to media bosses from their election rallies.
As usual, the leading challenger of the media’s independence is the supposedly-impartial president. Interpreting daily Hurriyet’s headline about the death penalty handed down to the disposed president of Egypt as a veiled threat to his own presidency with a mandate gained with the same percentage, President Erdogan blasted the media group and its proprietor Aydin Dogan.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has raised the stakes further, looking for a sinister plot from all corners of the country and beyond. He has claimed the whole of the international media has been mobilised against his government.
Nobody could have upped the ante higher than the President’s infamous chief advisor Yigit Bulut. Speaking on a live programme shown on the public broadcaster, Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), Mr. Bulut said:
“Nobody can touch the president of this country before I am killed.I have two licensed pistols and I have collected hundreds of bullets over the years thanks to my legal rights. Until I die, until I am shot or hanged, nobody can touch the elected president of this country”.
In its response to the President, Dogan Media Group’s flagship newspaper Hurriyet asked:
“Mr. President, What do you want from us? Why do you attack us with obvious injustices, obvious distortions, and obvious attempts to guess our intentions by reading selectively? Why do you target us?”
In recent days, defamation lawsuits against the press have increased. According to Taraf newspaper, any critical reference to Presidential Palace and its workings seem to trigger a lawsuit from Mr Erdogan’s lawyers. Widely accepted principles for election coverage such as impartiality, objectivity and accuracy do not seem to concern courts or regulators. Media outlets associated with the governing party AKP seem to have a free hand in their biased reporting.
If verbal intimidation and personally initiated prosecutions are not seen to be effective enough, there are other ways to silence the media.
In a move described as “heading down the dangerous slope of selective and politically motivated justice” by the co-chair of the Greens Group in the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms, Ankara’s public prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, has asked the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT) Directorate General to prevent the satellite infrastructure from being used by media outlets known to be owned by the Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. The International Press Institute (IPI) said that to prohibit critical media from using state satellite broadcasting infrastructure just as the country is nearing general elections would amount to censorship. Turkish umbrella group The Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP) condemned the request as a serious violation of the Constitution.
My own trade union in Britain, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called it a serious blow to democracy, the public’s right to know and be informed and crude state censorship.
The European Federation of Journalists has submitted it as a new case to the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.
These ongoing attacks against civil liberties in Turkey have now reached a stage that no amount of shining the international spotlight can help. Only a political change of direction through the ballot box will make a real difference.
This post is also available in: Turkish