EU criticizes arbitrary tax penalty against independent daily Taraf

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.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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