EU to give stern warning to Turkey over media freedom

The European Parliament, set to convene in Strasbourg on Monday, is preparing to issue a harsh warning to Turkey on Jan. 15 about freedom of the press in the country, according to draft texts by major political groups in the European Parliament obtained by Today’s Zaman.

A government-backed operation against independent media outlets that took place on Dec.14 resulted in the detention of dozens of individuals including Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Samanyolu TV network top executive Hidayet Karaca, script writers, producers and directors and caught the attention of the European Union. Discussing these events at a meeting in December, major political groups in the European Parliament agreed to make a joint decision regarding the issue on Jan.15.

Draft texts of the major groups in the European Parliament take a unified stance, either condemning or deploring the Dec. 14 operation.

The draft text of the Social Democrats’ statement says that the group “condemns the recent police raids and the detention of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey” and “stresses that these actions call into question the respect for freedom of the media, which is a core principle of democracy.”

The group also underlined that a number of provisions in the Turkish legal framework and their interpretation by members of the judiciary continue to hamper freedom of expression, including freedom of the media. The group noted that freedom of expression and media pluralism are at the heart of European values and that an independent press is crucial to a democratic society, as it enables citizens to take an active part in collective decision-making processes in an informed way and therefore strengthens democracy.

In their draft text, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) said they deplore the mass arrests that place on Dec. 14, which they said seem to be part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ongoing conflict with the faith-based Hizmet movement led by the Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, adding that the operation came one year after police and prosecutors targeted members of Erdoğan’s government on corruption charges.

The Dec. 14 operation was the culmination of a long battle launched by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and President Erdoğan against the Hizmet movement. This battle has continued since a corruption probe — in which senior government members and Erdoğan himself were implicated — went public on Dec.17, 2013. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan accused the Hizmet movement of masterminding the probe in an attempt to topple his government. The Hizmet movement strongly denies the accusations.

Zaman and Samanyolu TV are affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

ALDE reminded the Turkish authorities that utmost care must be observed when dealing with media and journalists, as the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media remains central to the functioning of a democratic and open society.
The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP)’s draft motion for a resolution also condemned the detention of journalists in the Dec. 14 operation.

The EPP re-affirmed the position of the Turkey 2014 Progress Report in their draft motion: “Court cases against journalists and writers, together with numerous dismissals of journalists, as well as the high concentration of media ownership in the hands of business conglomerates, continued to lead to widespread self-censorship by media owners and journalists, including on issues of public interest, such as corruptions allegations.” The EPP also urged Turkey to work on reforms that should provide for adequate checks and balances fully guaranteeing freedom of thought, expression and of the media, as well as democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The group also expressed its deep concern at the number of journalists in pre-trial detention, and called on Turkey’s judicial authorities to review and address these cases as soon as possible.

The EPP underlined that progress in the negotiations depends on respecting the rule of law and fundamental rights, adding that it is Turkey’s responsibility to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental rights are respected.

The draft motion continued: “[The EPP] notes the adoption of the Action Plan on Violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, which envisages revision of some provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code that restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the areas where the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights; notes that the Action Plan does not envisage revision of all relevant provisions of the Anti- Terror Law or of the Criminal Code that have been used to limit freedom of expression; stresses the need to reform these laws as a matter of priority.”

Following an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, which claimed the lives of 10 magazine staff and two policemen, there are claims that the European Parliament’s statement on press freedom in Turkey could even be harsher than its original draft.

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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