’A shameful day’ as Turkish court seizes Zaman-newspapers

by Jane Whyatt
On Friday, court officials were granted control of two newspapers that are critical of the Turkish government of President Erdogan. On Sunday, the first issue under new management was published – with the President’s picture on the front page.

Zaman joke extra3 Press freedom supporters are already making fun of the new Zaman under control of court trustees (Screenshot extra3)

Following the court decision on 4 March 2016, crowds gathered outside the headquarters in Istanbul of Zaman and Today’s Zaman. The court decided to appoint trustees to the papers. Jouranlists and readers gathered outside and  waited for them to arrive. The police finally stormed the editorial building, using water cannons to pave their way through the protesters.

Today, we are experiencing a shameful day for media freedom in Turkey. Our media institutions are being seized,”

Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarçeşme said as she addressed the supporters.

It was not the first time the newspaper was attacked. In a press release, the Zaman-journalists stated: “Zaman daily with Turkey’s largest circulation has been enduring heavy pressures such as accreditation, tax inspection, intervention in advertiser, and threats against readers over two years.” The appointment of the trustees was only the next step to bring the newspapers in line with the government.

And it seems they did not hesitate to put their plans into practice: Zaman’s Sunday edition was published with a picture of President Erdogan on the front page. Also pro-government topics were present, like the construction of the third Bosporus-bridge (Yavuz-Sultan-Selim-Bridge), which is supposed to be a project of much importance to Erdogan.

ECPMF Executive Board chair Henrik Kaufholz says:

“It’s very sad indeed that the Turkish government has decided to fight the media instead of all the other major problems in the country and the region.  What has happened to the newspaper Zaman the last few days is a clear violation of all the declarations to which Turkey has committed in the Council of Europe and the United Nations. The ECPMF strongly recommends Mr. Erdogan and his government to accept free media – however inconvenient their criticism might be for his government.”

A chorus of condemnation is echoing around the media freedom community, with Index on Censorship, the European Federation of Journalists, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Freedom House all issuing strong statements. IOC has started a petition.

The paper itself states that government’s action is not only a threat to press freedom, but to democracy in Turkey: “We are worried about such developments relegating Turkey in the league of democracy. We believe the only way out of this nightmare climate is possible by returning to supremacy of democracy and law. We share this concern of ours with our people, our intellectuals believing in democracy, and civilized world.”

This court action recalls the seizure of Kozek Ipak media group, when a similar judgment resulted in trustees taking over the Bugün and Kanalturk TV stations, as ECPMF reported in October 2015.