[Marxism] [SUSPICIOUS MESSAGE] Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 18 08:08:40 MST 2016


NY Times, Nov. 18 2016
Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists
By ROD NORDLAND

ISTANBUL — A prominent columnist wrote recently about how President 
Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey hates cigarettes so much that he 
confiscates packs from his followers, lecturing them on the evils of 
smoking.

The columnist, Kadri Gursel, then urged his readers to protest the 
president’s anti-democratic ways by lighting a cigarette and not putting 
it out.

For that, Mr. Gursel was arrested on terrorism charges and is being held 
in pretrial detention, one of 120 journalists who have been jailed in 
Turkey’s crackdown on the news media since a failed coup attempt in 
July. There, he has the company of 10 colleagues from his newspaper, 
Cumhuriyet, the country’s last major independent publication. Among them 
are its editor and the paper’s chief executive, arrested as he stepped 
off a flight to Istanbul last Friday.

Turkey now has handily outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer 
of journalists, according to figures compiled by the Committee to 
Protect Journalists.

The jailings are the most obvious example of an effort to muzzle not 
just the free press, but free speech generally. More than 3,000 Turks 
have faced charges of insulting the president, including a former Miss 
Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, who posted on Instagram a satirical rewording 
of the country’s national anthem as if Mr. Erdogan were singing:

I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond

I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.

She was sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended on the condition 
that she not repeat any offensive remarks.

The government and its supporters are behind a wave of demands to 
Twitter to remove offending posts, more than all other countries in the 
world put together, according to Twitter’s Transparency Report. (Of 
20,000 Twitter accounts affected worldwide this year, 15,000 were Turkish.)

Several journalists — including Mr. Gursel, whose column was published 
three days before the coup attempt — have been retroactively accused of 
“subliminal” messaging in support of the July uprising.

Even more risky now is anything viewed as support for the outlawed 
Kurdish nationalist party, the PKK. Some have been attacked for calling 
members of the group “militants,” rather than “terrorists.” Others are 
in jail for advocating a resumption of the collapsed peace process with 
the Kurdish guerrillas — although few here dare use the word “guerrilla.”

Failing to mention how many people were killed in the attempted coup, in 
any article about it, is also considered proof of terrorist sympathies.

Others have been convicted of terrorism charges for reporting on a 2015 
scandal in which Mr. Erdogan’s government was accused of supplying 
weapons to the Islamic State, which it is now fighting in Syria. One of 
those is Cumhuriyet’s former editor in chief, Can Dundar, who was free 
on appeal when he announced in August that he was not returning from a 
trip to Germany, saying he could not expect a fair trial in the wake of 
the coup attempt.

In addition to the jailings here, some 150 news outlets have been 
shuttered, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises, according to 
Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative for Reporters Without 
Borders. But probably the most corrosive long-term effect of the 
crackdown has been a highly effective government push for businessmen 
who are loyal to it to take over ownership of many of the remaining 
outlets, turning them into avid cheerleaders for Mr. Erdogan and his 
policies.

“What’s left, they are all basically Pravda,” said Gulsin Harman, who 
left her job as a foreign editor at Milliyet, a once independent 
newspaper that is now owned by an Erdogan crony.

“There is no more critical journalism, 90 percent of the free press is 
destroyed directly or indirectly,” Mr. Onderoglu said. “Investigative 
journalism is considered treason. Journalism has been stolen by the 
government.”

Asked for comment, a senior government official, who spoke on condition 
of anonymity in line with official policy, maintained that the 
journalists in jail in Turkey were there for criminal and terrorist 
offenses, not for their journalism. He also said there remained many 
publications in Turkey that were critical of the government.

There have been press crackdowns in Turkey before, especially during 
periods of military rule, and even Mr. Erdogan and his government have 
used press laws and intimidation against journalists on a large scale 
since 2012. But the sweeping emergency powers granted to Mr. Erdogan 
after the failed military coup against him, by supporters of the exiled 
Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, have greatly accelerated the crackdown.

“Never has there been such a dark period as this,” said Ayse Yildirim, a 
Cumhuriyet columnist, who found out by accident that criminal charges 
had been lodged against her for reporting on a Kurdish baby killed by a 
police bullet at a protest.

In addition to Mr. Dundar and the 11 Cumhuriyet staff members in jail, 
the paper’s employees are fending off an estimated 100 other criminal 
cases against them on a variety of charges, such as offending 
Turkishness, the president or local officials; terrorism; and membership 
in the PKK.

“Now even publishing a not-nice picture of Erdogan would be trouble,” 
said one prominent journalist, who spoke only on condition of anonymity 
because she feared she would be arrested, as many of her colleagues have 
been. “Now we even have ministers calling us and saying, ‘Why did you 
run that picture of me? I don’t like the way it looks,’ ” she said.

Some of the most virulent attacks on independent-minded journalists have 
come from journalists in the pro-Erdogan press who are known by their 
colleagues as “hit men.” First they attack the target by name, then 
personally lobby with intimidated media owners or the government to have 
the person fired or jailed.

The most notorious — and effective — of such hit men is a television 
commentator and social media activist named Cem Kucuk, a nationalist who 
many journalists say is really a government operative. When a New York 
Times journalist telephoned to arrange an interview with him, his 
colleagues said he could more easily be reached at the president’s office.

Mr. Kucuk laughed about that comment, saying, “No, no, I’m very close to 
Erdogan.” He denied he was a presidential employee, but made no 
apologies for advocating the jailing of journalists he views as 
“traitors” and supporters of terrorists.

“I don’t care what they call me,” he said. “In all of Turkey, people 
like me.” As for the spectacle of so many Turkish journalists behind 
bars, he said, “They deserve it.”

He said that Western countries had also jailed journalists, citing 
examples like the former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, jailed 
for refusing to reveal a source, and employees of the British tabloid 
News of the World, jailed for telephone hacking and the bribery of 
police officers.

Recently, a wiretap of a phone call between Mr. Erdogan and Erdogan 
Demiroren, the owner of the Milliyet newspaper, was posted on YouTube. 
In it, Mr. Demiroren is heard apologizing for the paper’s publication of 
leaked minutes of a secret meeting between Kurdish leaders who were 
discussing peace negotiations that have since been abandoned.

Mr. Demiroren says to the president, “Did I upset you, boss?” As Mr. 
Erdogan berates him, the paper’s owner begins weeping as he apologizes 
and promises to find out who leaked the documents to his paper. Mr. 
Erdogan denounces “this disgraceful, dishonest, vile man who puts a 
headline and wants to sabotage this process.” No one has challenged the 
tape’s authenticity.

There have been efforts at solidarity among some journalists. When the 
Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem was under attack, prominent journalists from 
many other publications took turns guest editing it, one each day. A 
hundred did so, and 50 of them were hit with criminal charges, accused 
of various terrorism offenses for what the paper published the next day.

Mr. Kucuk said it would not be necessary for Turkey’s remaining big 
newspapers to be shut down, as so many other outlets have been, because 
they had been brought to heel. The foundation that owns Cumhuriyet, he 
predicted, would soon be taken over by a group of hard-liners more 
friendly to the president.

“I can foresee things,” he said. “In the last three years, I am the only 
journalist whose writings became the truth.”

The other surviving major daily papers are widely seen as beginning to 
pull their punches under immense pressure, including Milliyet and also 
Hurriyet, the country’s most distinguished daily, which the government 
hit with a huge tax fine in 2009 and which has paid hundreds of millions 
of dollars toward it since then.

In an email, Hurriyet’s editor in chief, Sedat Ergin, insisted that the 
paper has maintained its editorial integrity. “Hurriyet will continue to 
honor its commitment to independent journalism despite all the hardships 
this might entail,” he said.

But Mr. Kucuk, meanwhile, is reveling in the influence that he suggests 
his closeness to the president offers him.

“In the media now, it’s me and some of my friends like me, we managed to 
prevail over them,” Mr. Kucuk said. “For example, now I have the power 
to make Hurriyet do what I want it to do. Now, we are ruling the 
country, we are ruling the people.”




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