Veteran Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar was fired from his long-time post at the Sabah daily on Tuesday, after its editorial board censored two of his columns related to the Gezi Park protests and media-government relations.
Baydar, who is also a columnist for Today's Zaman, first faced censorship when he vehemently criticized the government's handling of the Gezi protests.
On June 24, a disapproving column he wrote was not published. Baydar, the ombudsman at Sabah, included readers' letters that criticized the government stance on the recent Gezi Park protests against redevelopment plans for the park on İstanbul's Taksim Square.
When he submitted a piece that harshly condemned the government's actions, Sabah editors declined to publish it. Moreover, Erdal Şafak, editor-in-chief of Sabah, slammed Baydar for his stance regarding the Gezi protests in a published column.
Facing censorship and mounting pressure, Baydar took a leave of absence from the paper. He wrote a piece for the New York Times that revealed the deepening ties between media owners and the government at the expense of freedom of expression, including editorial freedom.
Baydar argued in his New York Times op-ed that Turkish media owners are clearly undermining the basic principles of democracy in the country. The major motive Baydar cites is the fact that media bosses fear losing lucrative business deals with the government.
Detailing business ties between media owners and the government from a critical point of view, Baydar asserted that this kind of relationship has negative impacts on democracy and the media.
When he returned to Turkey, Baydar sent another piece to Sabah to be published. This time he reportedly wrote about the appropriate organizational structure and relationship between an editor-in-chief and the ombudsman and on the significance of editorial freedom from possible external interference.
He suggested that there should be no hierarchical relationship between an editor-in-chief and a readers' editor, an apparent reference to Şafak's open criticism and intervention in his column when the daily refused to publish his earlier piece.
Turkish media reported that the Sabah daily also declined to publish Baydar's latest piece.
The newspaper finally dismissed Baydar on Tuesday.
There were also reports on Wednesday that the Sabah daily censored articles of the daily's long-time columnist Emre Aköz. Aköz's most recent article was not published by the daily on Wednesday.
These constitute the latest incidents in a series of firings of journalists in the Turkish media which have brought press and government relations into the spotlight and cast further doubts on the democratic credentials of the EU candidate.
According to a report in Today's Zaman on Monday citing the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), at least 22 journalists have been fired since the Gezi protests began in late May.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday marked Journalists' Day and said the media should consider the country's interests and public order while doing their job with freedom and fairness.
July 24 is celebrated as Journalists' Day in Turkey, marking the day when newspapers were published for the first time without going through government censorship 105 years ago under the Ottoman Empire, from which the Turkish Republic emerged.
Erdoğan stated that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are one of the major principles of democracy, adding that in developed democracies, the press is considered as a strong public power and it has the ability to affect and instruct people. Erdoğan added that his government places a lot of importance on press freedom and it has already taken reforms to broaden freedoms.
Deputy PM slams CHP report on jailed journalists
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Wednesday directed criticism at a report released by the Republican People's Party (CHP) on jailed journalists in Turkey, saying that the majority of the report has nothing to do with the facts.
Unveiling the report at a news conference on Tuesday, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, “In terms of media freedom, we have gone back to the level we were at 105 years ago,” maintaining that the media is being jointly controlled by the government and the police and that a large number of media bosses do as they are told by the government.
Commenting on the remarks of the CHP leader and a CHP report on jailed journalists, Bozdağ said the jailed journalists in Turkey are not in prison due to journalistic activities but due to their involvement in criminal activities.
“When a scientist commits a crime, do you have the luxury of saying this is a respectable scientist, let's not launch an investigation against him/her?” he asked.
Bozdağ also accused Kılıçdaroğlu of defaming Turkey with reports that are not based on facts.