Turkey plans additional clampdown on impartial media

Turkey’s announcement Wednesday that it’ll quickly “regulate” foreign-funded media retailers and require them to submit an in depth report on their actions each six months has set off a fierce debate, with critics saying it’s an additional try by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to eviscerate what stays of the free press.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his intentions clear in a information convention on the finish of a two-day tour to the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, saying, “We will be taking action against the calumny terror. From October onward, work will be undertaken to this end in the parliament.”

Turkey is routinely listed as one of many worst offenders of press freedom, with dozens of journalists languishing in jail on thinly supported “terror charges.”

The announcement got here amid a smear marketing campaign towards impartial media retailers that obtain monetary assist from the US-based Chrest Foundation, a personal charity.

They embrace the liberal-leaning Medyascope and Bianet, each on-line information retailers, in addition to Serbestiyet, a platform for extra conservative writers. Highly regarded, they’re amongst a handful of media retailers that present a crucial counterpoint to Erdogan’s multimillion-dollar propaganda machine.

Erdogan’s communications czar, Fahrettin Altun, stated in a press release, “We won’t allow fifth column activities under new guises. There is a need for a new regulation for media outlets operating [with the support of] foreign states and institutions.”

Altun justified the deliberate rules, saying the United States has carried out comparable measures. In truth, the National Defense for Fiscal Year 2019 requires US-based international media, not US-media funded by international capital, to submit reviews each six months relating to the retailers’ relations to international principals.

Al-Monitor columnist Kadri Gursel, who serves on the manager board of Reporters Sans Frontieres, a Paris-based international media advocacy group, stated, “It’s not a secret that most of Turkey’s independent media, particularly in the digital realm, receive foreign funds to survive in a media eco-system which is characterized by the devastating consequences of the authoritarian pressure of Erdogan’s rule.”

Gursel added in emailed feedback to Al-Monitor, “Multiple tools have been used to that end. Taking full or indirect government control of the mainstream media through forced acquisitions has been one of these tools. Another is to financially suffocate small but influential independent media outlets by — explicitly or implicitly — masterminding advertisement embargoes on them — a pressure method which is still widely in use.”

“To cope with such financial pressures and in the face of the reluctance of the secular business community to financially support independent media in Turkey, outlets like Medyascope have reached out to international donors to survive.”

The timing of the choice has raised additional hypothesis that Erdogan, whose ballot numbers are wilting primarily due to rising inflation and joblessness, could also be clearing the trail for early elections forward of their scheduled date in 2023.

Over 90% of the Turkish media is managed by businessmen with shut ties to Erdogan. In change for protection supplied by a military of sycophantic print and tv journalists, their corporations, lots of them within the building sector, obtain profitable authorities contracts.

But a number of research counsel {that a} rising variety of Turks are turning to impartial digital retailers for his or her information. This, in flip, could clarify why the federal government feels compelled to tighten the noose.

In a March report, the International Press Institute stated that, with 33.5 million customers, Turkey’s impartial media’s digital reach was catching up with the pro-government media’s 47.eight million customers. The report famous, “Independent media outlets receive 16.5% more interactions on social media and are closer to breaking through the echo chamber. They dominate the pro-government outlets in almost all dimensions from their follower growth to the number of viral content, and on all platforms.”

It added, “For occasion, they’ve 5 occasions extra engagement on Facebook, they usually reach a extra various viewers of stories customers on Twitter.”

As such, the proposed legislation is “a last-ditch attempt to kill independent media outlets that are becoming more influential than ever as the government-controlled media on the other hand becomes obsolete,” Gursel said.

Merve Tahiroglu, director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a think tank in Washington, said the move was part of a broader campaign of pressure extending to foreign-funded NGOs that are also portrayed as stalking horses for nefarious global forces out to undermine Turkey. “I think this measure is similar to the recent, so-called ‘NGOs law,’ which (in addition to allowing the government to replace board members with appointees) also appears to be aimed at pressuring nonprofits that receive foreign funding. NGOs with Western funding are especially feeling this pressure with increased and arbitrary inspections. And that’s no coincidence,” Tahiroglu said in emailed comments to Al-Monitor.

“At a time when the US and Europe are trying to expand their efforts to promote democratization and human rights in Turkey by supporting local NGOs and independent media organizations, Ankara is clearly trying to keep tabs on these activities and tighten its control over these institutions,” Tahiroglu added.

One of the government’s most prominent targets is Osman Kavala, a businessman turned civil society activist who used his family fortune to promote culture and peace between Turks and Armenians and between Turks and Kurds. Kavala has been rotting in a Turkish prison since October 2017 on a cocktail of outlandish terrorism charges. His foundation, Anadolu Kultur, is among the Chrest Foundation’s beneficiaries.

Kavala is due to appear in court on Aug. 6. In September 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the 63-year-old’s continued detention is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The court reiterated its opinion on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, saying Kavala’s prolonged detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyze civil society in the country.”

Turkey ratified the conference in 1954. The European Court’s selections are binding for signatories.

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