A high-ranking EU diplomat has criticized the Turkish government for handing the liberal-independent Taraf daily a multi-million dollar fine — which many believe was over the daily’s critical coverage — saying that such actions go against press freedom.
Taraf on Wednesday announced that it had been fined TL 5.5 million($2.6 million) by the Tax Inspection Council Administration of the Finance Ministry because of 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.
Peter Stano, spokesman for EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle, criticized the fine, saying, “Tax legislation should be applied transparently, predictably and without discrimination, not least to avoid allegations of a selective application that would damage freedom of expression.”
The fine given to Taraf is being seen as attempt by the government to pressure the daily into stopping its critical coverage, especially over a corruption scandal that broke out on Dec. 17, implicating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family and his associates.
The daily vowed on Thursday to resist government attempts to muzzle independent press in Turkey.
Tax inspectors have audited the daily multiple times this year, despite no irregularities being found during previous inspections.
The allegedly politically motivated fine as well inspections carried out on Taraf drew strong criticism from press freedom advocacy groups.
The European Commission’s 2013 Progress Report on Turkey had also criticized government pressure on the media.
The report said that an Internet law prepared in 2013 and enacted in 2014 “introduces excessive controls on, and monitoring of, internet access and has the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, democratic scrutiny and access to politically diverse information over the Internet.” It called on Turkey to revise the law in line with European standards on media freedoms and freedom of expression.
Secretary-General of the Turkish Association of Journalists (TGC) Sibel Güneş said, “[We] believe 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 the 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.