Turkey loses any independent reporting with post-coup regulations

by Barış Altıntaş, 25/10/2016

Ninety-eight journalists have so far been arrested under Turkey’s State of Emergency declared on July 20, 2016, five days after the failed coup attempt of July 15. Seventy-six of those journalists were journalists who worked or wrote columns for newspapers and media outlets affiliated with the Fethullah Gülen Movement, which the Turkish government alleges is behind the coup.

The remaining 22 were from Kurdish media outlets; who have been subject to a heavy-handed treatment by the country’s prosecutorial authorities since the State of Emergency.

State of Emergency rule, normally due to end in mid-October, was extended for another 90 days, and the government’s indiscriminate rage now seems to be directed at opposition and Kurdish news media. Most recent arrests of journalists took place not as part of the coup probe, but outside of it. For example, on 18 October, Sadık Demir, the owner of the Kurdish Radio Karacadağ and two former employees of the station, Mizgin Çay and Salih Erbekler, were arrested on charges of “terrorism propaganda” based on a program aired by the station.

Media outlets shut down

Nearly 2500 journalists have lost their jobs, 660 press cards were canceled, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines, 18 TV stations, 23 radio stations, 29 publishing houses and three news agencies have been shut down since the declaration of State of Emergency. Again, the most recent closures targeted Kurdish, left-wing and independent media. 13 of the 18 TV stations shut down were closed under cabinet decree on 30 September, nearly two months after the closure of the five stations allegedly associated with the coup. They included Kurdish, Alevi and independent radio stations. A television station for children was among them.

Those arrested outside the coup probe include Aslı Erdoğan, a celebrated writer and Necmiye Alpay, a foremost linguist. As part of the coup probe, well-known novelist Ahmet Altan was arrested along with his brother Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics. The two brothers were accused of having supported the coup, based on remarks they made on a television program, where they warned about the approaching dangers of authoritarianism. The court ruling for the  arrest of Mehmet Altan reasoned that “he must have known about the coup in the making given his educational background, social standing and economic standing,” confirming complete disregard of due diligence in gathering of evidence in the judicial proceedings. The court expressed a similar opinion for Ahmet Altan. The panel of judges argued that the two men, given their social standing, must have known the coup was coming, although the Turkish president, the undersecretary of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), the intelligence units of the National Police Department, or the Gendarmerie Command or the General Staff had not discover any warnings of the coup plot, at least by these institutions’ own accounts.

Those who have been arrested as part of the coup are also not given access to books or writing instruments; nor are they allowed to see their lawyers for more than an hour a week. Visits from friends and others are completely banned. They are also not allowed to receive or send letters.

More than 30,000 arrested in coup probe

In another recent development, Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BİK) regulations were changed to punish press outlets which refuse to fire journalists who are being tried under the country’s Counter Terrorism Law (TMK). According to the changes, official advertising to any news outlet that employs a journalist who is being tried on terrorism related charges will be cut off, unless the employee is fired from the media organization within five days after the start of legal action against the employee.

Censorship of the media is also widespread. For example, news stories reporting on a recent Gmail hack of Turkey’s Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, were blocked by the country’s Telecommunications Agency (TİB). Currenlty, 114,582 websites are blocked in Turkey. Internet blackouts and throttling are also common, especially after incidents such as terrorist attacks.

Certainly, Turkey’s post-coup crackdown doesn’t start or end with the press. As part of the wider coup investigation, more than 32,000 people have been arrested. According to government figures, over 70,000 people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation. 22,305 of those released were let go on probation, meaning they can’t travel abroad and they are required to check in with their local police station at regular intervals. More than 100,000 officials, including members of the judiciary, the police force and even school teachers, have been suspended or dismissed. At least 74,000 passports have been canceled under Cabinet Decrees, including passports held by the family members of those suspected of involvement in the coup – now a legal measure under the Turkey’s State of Emergency rule.

Free elections?

Recent developments indicate that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will likely opt for holding a referendum to introduce a presidential system in Turkey in April next year, followed by early general elections in the summer.

In the current situation in Turkey, holding a free and fair election is an impossibility. Statements and speeches from opposition leaders, particularly those from People’s Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş, are never reported in the mainstream media, most of which are directly owned by businessmen who have specifically bought media outlets to appease and remain in the good graces of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

With most critical media outlets shut down, voters will not have access to crucial information about any of the issues in a country where poverty, corruption and a military campaign against Kurds are ending lives. Credit rating agencies have downgraded Turkey’s rating to junk; although the government has dismissed these moves as a conspiracy against the country; defiantly maintaining that the economy is in good shape. The country about to be dragged into war in Iraq – not to mention the fallout from Turkish involvement in Syria –  with Turkey insisting that it be part of the operation against the Islamic State in Mosul despite Iraq’s irritation. There are other issues that will likely have longer-term effects, such as the government’s campaign to effectively finish off Turkey’s best schools, and violence against women remains rampant. Environmental issues, such as water safety, increasingly under threat by the government’s mega construction projects, also pose long-term risks to the nation’s future.

Turkey, now at a crossroads of regime change and on the brink of war has no media left to report on any of the issues. Any election that Turkey holds in the near future will not be free or fair; Turkey’s State of Emergency practices have effectively eliminated that possibility.

The article was republished from South East European Media Observatory with permission. 

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