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Turkey media crackdown: Who to blame?

August 13, 2013

By Selin Girit

Turkish journalists rallied in Istanbul last month to demand press freedom and denounce harassment of colleagues

Turkish journalists rallied in Istanbul last month to demand press freedom and denounce harassment of colleagues

Press freedom has become a burning issue in Turkey after the police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the way Turkish media initially avoided covering it.

As police fought running battles with protesters in June the mainstream news channels opted to air documentaries – including, infamously, one about penguins.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently remarked: “Not everyone has to like us. I’m being frank. There is no such obligation.”

That appeared to suggest tolerance for opposing views. But many sacked journalists are sceptical.

Since the Gezi Park protests – the biggest challenge yet to the AKP government after 11 years in power – at least 75 journalists have been fired or have resigned, the Turkish Journalists’ Union says.

Tugce Tatari was one of them. She has been a columnist since 2007 for the daily Aksam, which was taken over by a Turkish state-run fund, TMSF, in May this year. Soon after, a number of journalists lost their jobs, herself included.

Ms Tatari says they were sacked because of their coverage of Gezi Park, where anger over redevelopment plans mushroomed into wider criticism of the government.

“Those who opposed the PM, who objected to him in their columns, those who said the police used excessive force, were all fired, one by one. There was a crisis in the country.

“For the first time, there was a mass movement. The PM wants everyone who has spoken out about this to be sacked, because he cannot tolerate any sort of criticism.”

Government pressure?

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil: A placard pokes fun at Turkish media coverage of Gezi Park

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil: A placard pokes fun at Turkish media coverage of Gezi Park

Another prominent columnist, Can Dundar, was one of the latest casualties.

He was dismissed from the daily Milliyet, after three weeks of uncertainty when his columns were not published.

“I am not the first, and I will not be the last,” Mr Dundar wrote in his personal blog after his dismissal.

Mr Dundar’s case sparked a huge debate in Turkish media, with a fellow journalist claiming the prime minister’s adviser Yalcin Akdogan had played a significant role in the process. Mr Akdogan denied that. The BBC contacted him, but he declined to comment.

Mr Dundar was also sacked from a television channel two years ago after having attended a protest about arrested journalists.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “We have been told Mr Akdogan made a call. But the government then defends itself, saying ‘we never said such things’. So the blame rests on media bosses or editors. If they are really disgruntled about this, they need to speak out. They need to do this, not only for press freedom in Turkey but also for the future of Turkish democracy.”

Mr Erdogan’s conservative, Islamist-rooted party increased its majority in the last election. When it first came to power there were high hopes that the AKP would democratise Turkey, after years of military interference in politics.

Earlier this month 22 journalists were given sentences ranging from six years to life imprisonment in the Ergenekon case, alongside senior military officers, politicians and academics convicted of plotting a coup against the AKP government. Read more in the BBC.

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