OSCE criticizes unfair election race, pressure on media in report

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized Turkey in its report for government pressure on the media and unfair competition for the presidential candidates who are competing against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the presidential contest.

The interim report, drawn up by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, on the presidential election process in Turkey draws attention to the problems in media freedom saying, “OSCE […] interlocutors have expressed concerns that direct interference of media owners and political actors into editorial freedom results in a lack of independent and investigative journalism and leads to limited criticism towards the ruling party and the prime minister.”

Noting that the legal framework in effect does not provide for clear monitoring and reporting on the legal requirement of “impartiality” for broadcasters during the campaign period, the report said, “Further concerns have been expressed over the allocation of public tenders and advertising by state-owned companies to government-affiliated businesses and media leaves limited space for criticism of the ruling party and the prime minister, in particular on television.”

The OSCE report, which was published late on July 31 on the organization’s website, also noted that media freedom is also tainted by self-censorship among journalists due to government pressure saying, “A large number of criminal and civil defamation cases, initiated by high officials, including the prime minister, contribute to self-censorship among journalists.

For the first time, Turkey will elect a president by popular vote on Aug. 10. Erdoğan, who is running for president on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ticket, is competing against two rivals, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş.

İhsanoğlu, who served until the end of last year as secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was jointly nominated as presidential candidate by two leading opposition parties, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), while Demirtaş, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is running on the HDP ticket. Erdoğan has been slammed by opposition parties for lavishly making use of administrative resources during the election campaign and for getting disproportionally high coverage on state television channels compared to his rivals.

Although noting that a regulation is in place for financing of candidates, the report underlined that the law did not clearly establish which sources of funding are permitted and to which extent.

In the report, it is also noted that although the Supreme Election Board (YSK) is tasked with regulating campaign finance, it has not been able to provide the OSCE with clarification as to whether any limits on the use of personal funds would be applied.

Drawing attention to the fact that the law does not provide sanctions for breach of campaign finance provisions, the report said interlocutors with whom the OSCE delegation talked about the election process expressed concerns that regulations in place do not ensure transparent campaign financing.

Regarding Prime Minister Erdoğan’s use of administrative resources during his campaign, the report said: “Mr. Erdoğan’s campaign is well-organized, well-resourced and benefits from a high degree of visibility through regular travel to the regions, which combines official visits to provincial governors with large-scale rallies that are often followed by iftar [fast-breaking dinner during Ramadan], at times organized by the municipality. In İstanbul, Mr. Erdoğan’s campaign banners and trucks prominently featured at the entrance of municipal tents used for iftar.”

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality is currently governed by Kadir Topbaş, who is from the ruling party.

The report noted that Erdoğan openly campaigned during the recent inauguration of the high-speed train between İstanbul and Ankara.

According to the report, the opposition parties’ candidates, İhsanoğlu and Demirtaş, informed the OSCE that they have significantly fewer financial resources than Erdoğan. “Their campaigning has been active, but with limited visibility,” the report said regarding Erdoğan’s rivals.

A delegation of OSCE parliamentarians will travel to Turkey next week to observe the upcoming presidential elections and provide leadership for the OSCE’s short-term observer mission.

The delegation, which includes more than 20 parliamentarians from 15 participating OSCE states, will be led by Asa Lindestam, chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security.


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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