The liberal daily Taraf, fined TL 5.5 million ($2.6 million) by the government in what is seen as pressure over its critical coverage, vowed on Thursday to resist government attempts to muzzle independent press in Turkey.
“We won’t bend [to government pressure]. We’ll defend our rights,” Taraf said.
Taraf on Wednesday announced that it had been fined TL 5.5 million by the Tax Inspection Council Administration of the Finance Ministry over its scrap paper sales to paper mills. The daily wrote that other newspapers also engage in the sale of scrap paper, but Taraf has been the only one given a fine for the activity.
The apparently politically-motivated fine as well inspections carried out on Taraf by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) drew strıng rebukes from press freedom advocacy groups.
Secretary-General of the Turkish Association of Journalists (TGC) Sibel Güneş said, “[the TGC] believes it is unjust to exert financial pressure on any paper that is critical of the government, especially in a democratic country”.
“We think unjustified financial pressure is just another way to practice hidden censorship,” she added.
Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir also described the fine on Taraf as an intimidation tactic directed at Turkish press. “We haven’t seen such practices for a long time in Turkey. I hope the government changes its course and Turkey returns to normalcy,” he said.
Esendir also lambasted the government for discriminatory practices concerning pro-government media, claiming that many back taxes and fines owed by pro-government media outlets have been written off by the government.
The Taraf daily wrote that tax inspector Abdullah Kiraz targeted all past account movements of Taraf and its owner Alkım Publishing in 2012. The investigation lasted 14 months and the audit revealed no irregularities in the accounts of Alkım Publishing and Taraf.
According to the report, the inspector examined Taraf’s sale of unsold newspapers to paper mills for recycling. In February of this year, the Tax Inspection Council Administration issued the TL 5.5 million fine. Taraf has sued the Finance Ministry over the fine, arguing that it has been issued illegally.
However, the fine wasn’t the end of it, the daily reported. Three months after the issuance of the fine, the Finance Ministry Tax Inspection Council announced that it would be examining Taraf accounts once again. Deputy Tax Inspector Elif Mutlu announced on June 20 that all the newspaper’s 2013 and 2014 accounts will be fully reviewed as per a decision made by the Tax Inspection Council on June 12.
Taraf also claimed it had information to suggest that the audit had been ordered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally.
The daily also noted that companies owned by AK Party ministers and pro-government newspapers are immune to tax audits.
Repeating the allegations that government-controlled newspapers and television networks Sabah, ATV, Star, Yeni Şafak and Kanal A were bought with $630 million paid by businesses close to the government in return for public tenders, Taraf said the companies that have contributed to the money pool to buy the media establishments were largely immune to tax inspections or fines, in spite of voice recordings leaked earlier this year in which some of the owners of these businesses confess to kickbacks from government contracts.