Gov’t under fire for limiting freedom of press, favoring state-run media

Gov’t under fire for limiting freedom of press, favoring state-run media

May 19, 2013, Sunday/ 12:31:00 / ISTANBUL

Journalists and press associations have directed criticism at the government, accusing it of monopolizing information and placing freedom of the press at risk after private news agencies and newspapers were prevented from covering several events last week.

To the dismay of many, only the state-run Anatolia news agency and Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) were allowed to cover visits by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu to the people in Antakya State Hospital who had been injured by the Reyhanlı car bomb attacks last weekend. When main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu visited the victims at the same hospital on Monday, only reporters from TRT and Anatolia were allowed to cover Kılıçdaroğlu’s hospital visit, while reporters from the Cihan news agency, the İhlas news agency and the Doğan news agency were not allowed to do so.

More than 50 people were killed and many more wounded on May 11 in Hatay’s town of Reyhanlı near the Syrian border. Turkish officials have blamed the attack on a group linked to the Syrian regime. Apparent discrimination against these media outlets continued later in the week as they, apart from Anatolia -- were barred from covering a historic moment in Ankara on Tuesday when the country’s central bank paid Turkey’s final loan installment, around $421 million, to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Only Anatolia was invited to cover the ceremony, while other private news agencies or reporters from newspapers were not given permission to cover the event. Anatolia reported the news only to its subscribers.

At a time when successive reports from international institutions slam Turkey for its poor performance with regard to freedom of the press, these incidents added further fuel to the fire.

Cihan General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici told Sunday’s Zaman that allowing only one media outlet to cover a public event due to reasonable grounds such as lack of space, security concerns, etc., can be acceptable; however, in such cases the content of the news should be shared with other media outlets without the use of a logo of the media outlet allowed, content should be expressed in the language of the media and a pool system should be implemented.

“This approach [of preventing certain media from covering the news] is completely against press freedom, the people’s right to have access to information and free competition. We want double standards to be eliminated,” he said.

Bilici also said it is thought-provoking for the government to keep its silence with regards to its move, which has drawn criticism from almost all the press organizations in the country.

Media Association Chairman Salih Memecan voiced similar concerns and said that censorship of the press should be completely lifted as soon as possible and that such attempts by the government damage freedom of the press in the country.

A comprehensive analysis released last week by the Center for American Progress (CAP) details the current state of press freedom in Turkey and provides recommendations to expand freedom of expression in an effort to secure Turkey’s future as a thriving democracy. The report says “among its many findings, the brief outlines how political tension between the Turkish government, the political opposition and Kurds have led to censorship, arrest, threats and outright violence against reporters and minority voices; as of the end of 2012, Turkey had imprisoned 49 journalists for their reporting, more than any other country in the world.”

According to the analysis, political culture and journalism are intensely personal in Turkey as reporters and editors expressing dissenting or critical views also face professional repercussions from media proprietors concerned about the potential backlash from government officials or tax authorities.

A report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) earlier this year revealed that there are 49 jailed journalists in Turkey. The government says the jailed journalists were not placed behind bars due to journalistic activities but because of their links to illegal organizations.

Some articles of the Press Law, the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) are frequently used to prosecute journalists in Turkey.

According to Ragıp Duran, a veteran journalist and an academic on the communications faculty of Galatasaray University, preventing some agencies and journalists from covering certain events turns the government into a power center that hides facts from society or manipulates facts.

“Governments that are not democratic and transparent try to turn the virtual truth in their favor in an illegal and illegitimate way if they do not have sufficient self-confidence. Such a mentality prevents journalists -- in other words the people’s access to information and news freely -- by utilizing such excuses as state secret, confidentiality of an investigation or security concerns. To achieve this goal, they mobilize ‘embedded’ media outlets that work under an order-command chain. In this way, they think they present the real truth to society in the form of the virtual truth they want. However, real truth, particularly with today’s communication technology, is revealed sooner or later, perhaps with some delay,” he explained.

Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir said the move to prevent some media outlets from covering certain events does not comply with press freedom and that it is an unfortunate act made against the people’s right to have access to information.

“We expect authorities to show respect for freedom of the press,” he said.

According to Media Association Secretary-General Deniz Ergürel, the exclusion of news reporters other than TRT and Anatolia is clearly discrimination and unfair and unacceptable in terms of press freedom and the public’s right to have information. In addition, he said there is no written law that gives the state media more privileges than private media outlets, and this is also unacceptable in terms of business ethics. “News agencies make money by selling news to their clients. When a state official prefers the state media over the other outlets, this is clearly discrimination,” Ergürel told Sunday’s Zaman.

The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) also condemned the treatment received by private news agencies in Hatay in a statement it released last Tuesday.

The TGC stated that what those media outlets were exposed to was clear discrimination, and it called on the government to give up such discriminatory accreditation practices against media outlets. “The fact that only state-owned media outlets were permitted to attend events organized by the government in recent times can be seen as clear proof that the government is in favor of ‘monologism’ in the press. The government is trying to control the news and impose censorship on the press,” the TGC stated.

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