Police take over Turkish news media as election campaign turns nasty

Violent scenes, a fired the Editor- in-Chief, a changed the editorial policy and the holding back of a EU progress report on Turkey.

Police take over Turkish news media as election campaign turns nasty

There was an international outcry and tension when the company’s two television stations were entered by police using bolt-cutters to get through the gates. Demonstrators who were trying to block their way with umbrellas were sprayed with tear gas, reports the Turkish agency BIANET.

The protestors gathered when a court ruling put the Koza Ipek media group into receivership and appointed official trustees. Bugün TV (it means Today TV) and its sister station Kanaltürk, together with the English language news portal BGN and other newspapers in the media group, are critical of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The group has links with Fetullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in the United States, according to the BBC.

Bianet’s English-language reporter Elif Akgül told ECPMF:

The trustee team held a meeting in the Bugün TV newsroom. We watched it on Periscope (live stream from mobile phone). As we could see, there were policemen in the newsroom, one of the trustees was threatening journalists they would get fired if they have critical thoughts on the court ruling. So I assume that publishing will continue in Koza Ipek media, but with a lot of different content and political angles.

And Elif Akgül was right. The following day’s edition of Bugün the newspaper features a picture of President Erdogan. The latest action followed the earlier raid on the media group in September by police investigating allegations of financial impropriety at the media group.

Pro-government sources such as the Andalou press agency quoted Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davatoglu. He denied in a radio broadcast that the action at Koza Ipek was politically motivated:

It is a legal process which means it is a process followed by prosecutors and judges of our courts. A political intervention by us is out of question, he said.

Other pro-government news media are covering the story as ‘the FETO  (Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation) show, says Elif Akgül. But BGN and the other Koza Ipek publications published large black banners saying 'a dark day for Turkish democracy and freedom'.  And rival newspaper Today’s Zaman did the same in a show of solidarity.

Political figures, media freedom campaigners and human rights organisations have joined a chorus of support for the journalists. They express concern about the events, which come just a few days before the Turkish general election.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s Lutz Mükke denounced the intervention as “unacceptable” and “shocking” and pointed out that it breaches the European Charter on Freedom of the Press. He also criticises the fact that the EU Commission is holding back a report on media freedom in Turkey because of the upcoming elections and because of the ongoing negotiations on refugees between the EU Commission and Turkey. Elmar Brok, who chairs the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the EU Commission representative Andris Kesteris recently discussed this holding back of the EU progress report at the ECPMF’s Europe Media Freedom conference. Brok criticised the holding back of the report.

Elmar Brok and Andris Kesteris European Parliament Foreign Affairs chair Elmar Brok and EU Commission Andris Kesteris discuss media freedom in EU candidate countries at the ECPMF European Media Freedom Conference 2015

However, after the latest Koza Ipek raid, stronger words are coming from the EU: 

We want to reiterate the importance of respect of the rule of law and media freedom,

said Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini.