A partnership of HuffPost and the

Turkey's Media Inches Closer to Central Asian Norms

In Amman, where I am to meet hard-working Arab colleagues, all 450 of them, from 9 countries, to discuss the professional issues, and ever so confusing Arab Awakening process, under the auspices of Arab Journalists for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), I had to update my keynote speech on the state of Turkish media in the course of a day several times.

In other words, the address of mine, in a session titled, Media Under Attack, somewhat reproduced itself.

Here is some of the recent blows to Turkey's already fragile journalism, or whatever remains of it, which does not need much commentary.

Turkey's tiny, but severely loud and independent daily Taraf received triple charges by the office of the Prime Ministry, secret service (MIT) and National Security Council (MGK) yesterday for publishing a secret directive agreed in a meeting of MGK about ten years ago. The directive is about secret surveillance of moderate Islamic sects and profiling their members and activities.
The report puts under spotlight the ruling AKP as responsible for following up on its implementation -- an issue debated on its unconstitutionality.

"Prosecutors have launched an investigation into Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu for publishing a leaked national security document that includes a secret plot to curb activities of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Baransu is accused of 'unveiling documents that should be kept secret for the state's security and its political benefits,' 'political and military espionage' and 'unveiling information that is forbidden to announce,'" daily Today's Zaman reported.

In another development, İstanbul Public Prosecutor's Office is investigating journalist Arzu Yıldız, formerly with the Türkiye and Taraf dailies, over a news report on two Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members who allegedly spied on behalf of Iran. The story is based on a letter received by Türkiye from an anonymous source. According to the article, bugging devices were found in the office of the YTB at the building of the Prime Ministry in Ankara eight months ago. Police officers from the Ankara Police Department who investigated took steps to identify the individuals to whom the devices were transmitting. The investigation revealed that the individuals who planted the bugging devices were two women -- co-founders of the AK Party, which was established on Aug. 14, 2001, who are still active members. The daily did not name the two women. The prosecutors are accusing Yıldız of "violating privacy, reported daily Today's Zaman.

In a somewhat more complicated but equally revealing story, as reported by Today's Zaman, Ruhat Mengi, a journalist who is known for her fierce criticism of the AKP government, has lost her job at the Vatan daily. Her firing came at a time the government is preparing to confiscate the Demirören Group's famous luxury residence of Kemer Country in İstanbul. The Demirören Group owns also Vatan daily. 'he daily's sacking of Mengi, who founded the newspaper with her husband Güngör Mengi' reported Today's Zaman, 'has once again highlighted Turkish media bosses' difficult choice between freedom of the press and their commercial interests.'

As the world watches, the space for independent journalism in Turkey narrows day by day.
This is the simple conclusion, summed up by the episodes I mentioned.

The recent weeks were not eventless, either. In a recent article, penned for Index On Censorship, I summarised other incidents.

Independent-secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported the story ten days ago that a classified document signed by the head of the National Intelligence, MIT, was sent to the Prime Ministry and that Prime Minister Erdoğan gave approval to the wiretapping of some journalists and writers, that the "necessary coordination was made with the judiciary," and that MIT carried out the wiretappings. According to the daily, phones of journalists Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar, Mehmet Baransu, Amberin Zaman and Mehmet Altan were wiretapped.

When the story was first revealed last year, the journalists filed a criminal complaint against MIT, and a legal case was opened. An İstanbul court hearing the case earlier asked MİT why the journalists were wiretapped by the organization. The organisation sent a response to the court and said the wiretapping was carried out legally and the phones of the journalists were wiretapped for the 'benefit of the public'.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the story -- which is earth-shattering in its essence, revealing the worrisome trends in Turkey against the very core of media freedom and right to privacy -- was almost entirely ignored by the conglomerate media, and covered only by a very few small outlets.

Another colleague, Abdullah Bozkurt, Ankara Bureau Chief of daily Today's Zaman, expressed profound concern that media has become toothless and added another dimension:

"Considering the widespread allegations that MIT has been putting journalists on its payroll in Turkey, financing reporters through clandestine activities to promote the agency and to clutter the information space through unscrupulous reporting fed to them by the agency, the media's public interest advocacy role is very much diluted."

Meanwhile, none of these stories I quoted here were picked up by Turkey's conglomerate media outlets. None of them raised any questions -- let alone objections or protests -- on tightening screws over journalism. Some did the opposite, accusing Taraf daily and some journalists for smearing the government.

The question is, whether or not Turkey's "mainstream" media, politically and economically in shackles is moving towards submitting to the kind of conditions like those in Central Asian republics such as Azerbaijan.

It is a very worrisome direction indeed. It means that the EU has immediately to open negotiation chapters # 23 and 24, that also have to with freedom, rights and justice. This is the direction we in Turkey need to revive.

Subscribe to the World Post email.