EP rapporteur blames conglomerates in free press debate

EP rapporteur blames conglomerates in free press debate

December 02, 2009, Wednesday/ 16:41:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
The core of the issue regarding freedom of the press in Turkey stems from business conglomerates using the media outlets they own to promote their interests, a leading member of the European Parliament has asserted.

The remarks by Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten came on Tuesday evening during a discussion on the human rights situation in Turkey at the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, as she was speaking of the tax fine on Turkey’s giant media group Doğan Yayın Holding. “Doğan Yayın Holding has been given a heavy tax fine. In my opinion, this fine is disproportionate and something should be done about this,” Oomen-Ruijten, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Doğan Yayın has currently been challenging a record TL 4.8 billion ($3.2 billion) tax fine after the failure of settlement talks with tax officials.

“But the main problem in freedom of the press is this: You are active in the media and other commercial fields as the owner of a holding and you’ve been using the power of the media which is a part of your holding for clout. There is the need for a separate legal arrangement for resolving this issue,” Oomen-Ruijten added.

A draft progress report of the European Parliament on Turkey, written by Oomen-Ruijten, also touches upon the same issue.

The European Parliament “is concerned about continued restrictions on press freedom, particularly following the imposition of an unprecedented fine on a media group, as well as regarding frequent website bans; stresses that the cultivation of press freedom is an important sign of political culture in a pluralistic society; recommends that in this context, and in light of the unhealthy links between media and business interests, a new media law be adopted,” says the draft report.  The first debate of the draft report is scheduled to take place today at the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the same day the committee will hold an exchange of views with Egemen Bağış, State Minister and Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, on Turkey’s progress this year on its path towards EU accession.

Doğan Yayın is one of the largest business groups in Turkey with extensive activities in the media, tourism, energy, real estate and insurance sectors and controls half of Turkey’s private media. It has joint partnerships with a number of well-established international companies, including CNN (part of AOL-Time Warner), Axel Springer, OMV, Universal Music Group, Burda GmbH and Egmont Publishing.

Having been in dispute with the Turkish government for more than a year, the company officials as well as its columnists argue that the dispute has stemmed from its media organizations’ critical coverage of the government, suggesting that the case against the company is politically motivated.

Nonetheless, a considerable number of observers have expressed doubts over such an argument saying that the same media organizations have repeatedly ignored public interest for decades using the argument that “press freedom is in danger.”

The same observers highlight that in order for the media in Turkey not to be manipulated by media barons and to fulfill its democratic functions, it is absolutely necessary to pass legislation to limit ownership concentration in the media and to ban media barons from participating in public tenders.

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