ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
The media-government tension is not unique to Turkey as almost all developing democracies have suffered and are still suffering from their politicians’ growing intentions to control the media.
But what is almost unique to Turkey is the government’s use of the state power to tax as an instrument to silence the media outlets whose coverage is not liked.
The record 3.755 billion Turkish Liras ($2.5 billion) tax levy imposed on the Doğan Media Group, following the $592 million fine imposed in February, is seen by some as a blatant attempt to use state means to silence vocal critics of the government.
Since coming to power in late 2002, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has tried many other ways to control the media, which included limiting the freedom of expression through the penal code, refusing to approve the accreditation of some journalists who were not wanted to be present around the prime minister or calling on the people to boycott the newspapers belonging to a certain media group.
The government’s tactics to this end could be listed as follows:
1. Use of state means: The government’s first target was the Uzan Group, which was one of the most vocal critics of the AKP policies. As Cem Uzan was also AKP’s Chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political rival, the government’s move in launching a large-scale operation against Uzan Holding and its media outlet was seen by many as an effort to silence both a critic and a rival. The group’s illegal money transfer from its banks to the holding was the starting point that ended with the confiscation of the daily Star and Star TV channel as well as the group’s other publications.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after the imposition of first tax fine, hinted that the problem was occurring because of reports in Doğan group newspapers, especially on the ongoing Lighthouse e.V. corruption case in Germany, which is allegedly linked with some top AKP officials.
The government was also bothered by the group’s reports on the corruption cases of some local AKP officials, known as the “Ali Dibo deals.”
After the imposition of the first tax fine, Erdoğan said he was made aware of the move, making it clear that “the process was under control.”
In a similar way, Kanal Türk, a TV channel owned by staunchly secularist and activist Tuncay Özkan, was made a subject of investigation by the state tax office and other units for months in 2007. Özkan said he had to sell his TV channel as a result of pressure. Apart from these examples, many other independent media organizations are under detailed inquiry.
2. Jail journalists: A number of prominent journalists were arrested as part of the ongoing Ergenekon case, an alleged organization that is accused of aiming to topple the government in 2003 and 2004. Columnists of daily Cumhuriyet, one of the most vocal dailies against the AKP government, were arrested and thus silenced. Mustafa Balbay has been in prison for the last six months, while İlhan Selçuk and Erol Manisalı were released because of their poor health. Among more than 200 suspects, there are around 20 journalists who were arrested by the prosecutors of the Ergenekon case. Özkan, Kanal Türk’s former owner, is currently in jail on Ergenekon-related charges.
3. Limit the freedom of expression: One of the first legislative works of the government was amending the press code. Though, in the name of the European Union bid, some improvements were made by this amendment, many of them were taken back through the 2005 penal code. Dozens of journalists, writers and intellectuals have suffered from Article 301 of the penal code. Despite the minor changes in the article, it still poses a threat to the freedom of expression.
4. The prime minister’s call to boycott: It was perhaps a first in this country when Erdoğan publicly called on the public to boycott the newspapers belonging to the Doğan Media Group. Though the public did not respond to his calls, his constant insults to the media were in fact hurting the credibility of the media, an indispensable instrument of a healthy democracy.
5. Don’t adopt good examples: As a candidate to the EU, Turkey was expected to harmonize more with the European countries’ standards for the freedom of press. On the contrary, government officials preferred to remain indifferent to calls from international organizations. Recently, Turkey’s decision not to sign in a declaration issued by the EU, in a move to show solidarity with a Kazakh journalist, drew reactions from inside and outside.
6. Isolate journalists: Journalists’ accreditations were always a problem in this country but mostly because of the military’s strict approach toward certain media groups. The Prime Ministry is another institution that has used its authority to register journalists who are tasked to cover the activities of the prime minister as a means to avoid some reporters whose stories were not liked by Erdoğan. Seven journalists’ applications to renew their accreditation were refused by Erdoğan’s former press adviser in 2006.
7. Create your own media: Over the last seven years, one of the most remarkable developments in the Turkish media was the increase in the number of pro-government newspapers and television channels. The sale of the daily Sabah and atv to the Çalık Group was an issue much debated in the country as the group financed the $1.1 billion newspaper and channel through a loan granted from two public banks. The prime minister’s son-in-law was also a senior Çalık Group official.