Journalists’ unions slam directive denying access to police departments

Journalists’ unions slam directive denying access to police departments

Journalists gathered outside of police stations across the country and left their pens on the ground in a show of protest against a recent government ban. (Photo Today’s Zaman, Hasan Çilingir)

December 24, 2013, Tuesday/ 17:24:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Unions of journalists have harshly criticized a directive introduced on Sunday by the National Police Department banning journalists from entering police department buildings, saying that the right of the press to obtain and publish information cannot be restricted.

The National Police Department on Sunday issued a new directive forbidding journalists from entering police departments across the country. The directive came amid a reshuffle in the police department that saw more than 110 police chiefs removed from their posts following the start of a major government corruption investigation initiated by the police in which Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab and the sons of two ministers have been arrested so far.

Releasing a written statement on Tuesday, Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir said the new directive clearly blocks the journalists' right to obtain information and defined it as a government attempt to intervene in and censor the media. Esendir also called on the government to withdraw the directive, saying: “The [bad] treatment of journalists, who have only been performing their duties as stipulated by the law, should be stopped, and the government should give up its attempts to censor the media as soon as possible.”

Another reaction came from the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) on Tuesday. The president of the ÇGD's western Central Anatolia branch, Can Hacıoğlu, said the decisions to ban journalists from entering police departments and the closure of press rooms at those departments are unacceptable. He added that the fact that police departments prefer censorship in a period when Turkey has been discussing opening press agencies at police departments and prosecutor's offices as part of the EU harmonization process is very challenging. “We journalists find this situation very odd,” Hacıoğlu said.

He continued: “Newspapers will continue to write about the corruption and attacks on people's livelihoods. Just as they continued to write when they were taken into custody, beaten and dismissed from their jobs for publishing facts, they will continue to write when doors are shut in their faces. No one can silence journalists. Journalists will never be silent, even with all the attempts to silence them.”

Hacıoğlu also harshly criticized Turkish Airlines (THY) for stopping the distribution of the Zaman, Today's Zaman, Bugün and Ortadoğu dailies to business class passengers on its planes on Monday without providing any explanation, though other dailies are still being handed out onboard.

Hacıoğlu accused THY of discriminating against the dailies for their coverage of the major corruption scandal involving numerous bureaucrats and the sons of three ministers. He said: “Such [discrimination] cannot be accepted. … We are talking about democracy. If there is democracy in the country, THY should distribute all newspapers without discrimination. The government cannot classify the newspapers as rightist, leftist, pro-government, anti-government, etc. You have to distribute every newspaper and should leave the decision to the public. People should be able to read any newspaper they want and should be able to watch any TV channel they want. Such attempts cannot be acceptable in a democratic country.”

In a related development, Çukurova Journalists' Community (ÇGC) members staged a protest in front of the Adana Police Department on Tuesday. The journalists threw pencils in front of the police department's gate in protest of the directive adopted by the National Police Department on Sunday.

Releasing a press statement, ÇGC President Cafer Esendemir said impositions saying “You cannot enter here or you cannot write about this” cannot be deemed acceptable in a democracy. Indicating that the recent directive against the journalists is very revealing in a period when the country's agenda is topped with serious allegations like corruption and bribery, he added that no government can prevent people from accessing facts forever. “The directive introduced recently violates the people's right to be informed. We define this attempt with only one word. It is, unfortunately, censorship. The recent decision is censorship. It is an explicit intervention in press freedom in the country. The Turkish press was not subject to such treatment even during the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup period,” he said.

Access to Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu's website was blocked to users in Turkey by the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) as of Wednesday evening for publishing photos and tapes about the recent graft investigation. The website, yenidö, is still blocked.

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