Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said the country now has a “freer media” when compared with the past.
“In the past, we had a media which consisted of just few powerful [media] groups. Thanks God, we can now say that we have media where many different groups comfortably perform their jobs and which is more free and open when compared with past times,” Kurtulmuş was quoted as saying by the Hürriyet daily on Saturday.
Kurtulmuş’s statements come on the heels of a resolution adopted by the European Parliament, which strongly criticized the deteriorating situation of democracy media freedom in the country.
The EP report said it “deplores the serious backsliding, over the past two years, on freedom of speech, expression and opinion both online and offline in Turkey, which is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.”
Recalling that according to the Turkish authorities’ own figures, Turkey is the country which holds the record for the highest number of journalists behind bars, the resolution reiterates that freedom of opinion, expression and speech, including independent media, are core European values.
Calling for the immediate release of all jailed journalists, the report said it deplores the personal attacks by leading government officials against journalists and opponents, and the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the Turkish leadership.
“[The European Parliament] … urges Turkey to act against intimidation of journalists in all its forms, in particular by investigating all physical attacks and threats against journalists and actively preventing attacks against media outlets, but also by defusing the tense political climate which creates an environment curtailing freedom of speech in the media and on the internet,” it said.
In October of last year, Turkey witnessed the firing of hundreds of journalists after appointment of a panel of trustees to the İpek Koza Holding company in a government-backed move, which apparently aimed to intimidate independent journalists and attracted widespread negative reaction.
The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies and the channels Bugün TV and Kanaltürk early on Oct. 28 when police forcibly entered the broadcasting headquarters of the media group, during which journalists and protesters claimed they were subjected to police brutality. The trustees immediately fired dozens of journalists from the group and turned the news outlets, which used to have a critical stance, into government mouthpieces. The outlets were later shut down.
In a similar vein, hundreds of journalists critical of the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regime have been fired from their jobs after government-backed trustees took over the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies earlier in March after violent police raid.
Condemning “the violent and illegal takeover of several Turkish newspapers, including Zaman most recently,” the report also expressed concern about the decision of Digiturk, allegedly based, inter alia, on political grounds, to stop transmitting television channels. It calls on the Turkish Government to end the political and economic pressure on independent media, strongly condemning verbal and physical attacks and the increasing use of defamation and anti-terror legislation against journalists.