Turkish President Erdoğan tries to violate media freedom in Germany

by Michelle Trimborn

With his latest move, it seems Turkish President Erdoğan has shot himself in the foot: when German political satire programme "extra 3" criticised his restrictions on media freedom in a video, he summoned the German ambassador – and allegedly asked to stop the publication of the audiovisual material.

turkey_germany_900 Turkish-German relations have been increasingly uneasy as Erdogan has been oppressing German citizens. (Photo: Pixabay)

Extra 3, a weekly programme on German public broadcaster NDR, is using its satirical approach to criticise world politics. Usually smiled at by politicians and authorities, the programme gained wide attention as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turned a joke about him into an affair of state.

Just in time for the trial of two Turkish journalists who could face life prison sentences if convicted, extra 3 broadcast a song called “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan”. To the melody of a well-known German pop-song, the singer tells the audience about media freedom and civil rights violations under the Erdoğan regime:

“If a journalist publishes something that Erdoğan does not like, he is in jail the next day / editorial offices are closed, he does not hesitate long and drives with tear gas and water cannons through the night”

(German original „Ein Journalist der was verfasst, was Erdogan nicht passt, ist morgen schon im Knast/ Redaktion wird dicht gemacht, er denkt nicht lange nach und fährt mit Tränengas und Wasserwerfern durch die Nacht“)

Other topics taken up by the 2-minute-long video are the violation of women’s rights, oppression of the Kurds and other violations of democratic principles. The “music video” shows Erdoğan and the events mentioned, for example the arrest of Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şık.

International organisations condemn Erdoğan’s action

Hearing about the satirical video, President Erdoğan summoned Martin Erdmann, the German Ambassador to Turkey, and criticised the publication of the song. News agency AFP reported that he even demanded to stop the ongoing publication of the music video.

On Wednesday, 30 March, both the German Foreign Office and the office of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, commented on the case. “President Juncker does not appreciate this movement of calling in the German ambassador just because of a satirical song. He believes that this moves Turkey further from the EU rather than closer to us”, a spokesperson of the EU-Commission commented in his name.

This move does not seem to be in line with upholding the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression, which are values the EU greatly cherishes.

The German Foreign Office commented on the talk of Erdman and Erdoğan that the German ambassador made it clear that “the rule of law, the independence of legal authorities and the security of basic freedoms, including the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, are precious values that need to be protected jointly”. He also made clear that political satire in Germany is allowed according to the rule of press freedom and freedom of expression so that there is “neither the necessity nor the possibility for the federal government to act in this case”.

Some days earlier, Erdoğan excluded the public, including foreign diplomats and media experts, from the trial against Cumhuriyet-journalists Erdem Gül and Can Dündar. He criticised several foreign ambassadors to Turkey as they were attending the trial in Istanbul as observers together with local and international media freedom organisations like ECPMF. 

Finally, Erdoğan's action backfired: instead of hiding the video from the public, it was the President’s intervention that made it popular. It already has more than two million views on YouTube, and extra 3 even decided to add Turkish subtitles to the song to make it available to a broader audience.