A frontal attack on journalism is underway in Turkey

Journalists from Evrensel were surprised, when they inquired about their press passes, to find out that they no longer had any press credentials. Their press cards had been cancelled by the government

A frontal attack on journalism is underway in Turkey

There are only a few opposition papers and media left in Turkey. This is the result of a well-planned, top-down assault of the government to silence all opposition.

Media organizations and papers that try to keep their independence from government are struggling under harsh measures that keep mounting each day in Turkey.

Papers like Evrensel, Birgün, Cumhuriyet, Sözcü, or Yeni Yaşam and others are keeping their heads above the water only by sacrificing a lot and mostly by loyal reader support. In a land where the entire mainstream has been forced to toe the government line and have become government mouth-pieces, the remaining few independent media have become the only source of real information.

In a coordinated move, even the mainstream papers that occasionally published soft criticisms of the government were attacked. Using the weapon of “tax audits” and financial measures some papers were disciplined then sold to pro-government businessmen. From that point on the mildest of criticisms of the government ceased in the mainstream.

It was already the norm in the east where any/all opposition media was banned.  Raids to newspaper stands, distribution centers, the trucks who transported the papers took a toll. Having an opposition paper in possession, albeit being completely legal, became a crime that could land someone behind bars for years. A legal publication is being treated as proof, especially in the east where the population is mostly Kurdish, of one’s involvement in separationist terrorism. Due to this intimidation, many people avoid buying dissident papers resulting in reduced sales which triggers yet another reason for the distributors or stands not to carry the papers. It is a downward spiral for and independent media.

Buying off and blackmailing the mainstream was easy. The real opposition on the other hand had to be dealt differently. Government watchdogs started scanning the internet. The government agency in charge of ensuring “moral and decent” publications turned their focus on opposition. The sites that reported on corruption and absurdities of the government or its allies were cut from access one by one.

Then came the inside jobs. If the opposition papers were too harsh, and did not budge after regular intimidations, internal contradictions were used.  Administrative tricks and external support to those closer to the government or its ideology came into play to change the boards of some papers that resulted in turn to changing the paper’s policies and guidelines.

If this wasn’t enough to silence the opposition, recently came a decision by the government that the paid government announcements and advertising would not be given to the opposition papers. This is as good as a death sentence to papers that stay alive on reader subscriptions, sales and paid government announcements alone. These papers do not get much private advertising because of their political position of being against corruption, capitalism and privatization of social services. The government announcements may be the only substantial income in the face of falling sales, official banning and intimidations.

Paid government ads and announcements, while starving the opposition, has become the source of corruption on how the government launders money to allies. Newspapers spewing out ruling AKP party propaganda but selling hardly a hundred or two copies are gifted with huge government bank advertising and paid announcements. These papers are nearly always owned by business people who also have other contracts and relationships to AKP officials. The government provided funds to the allied media are shared among both givers and receivers. The important part is that when these “newspapers” that only exist to praise the government and gobble up the majority of the government funds, the rest are starved and left to die.

Just when everyone thought the government in Turkey hit rock bottom in its assault against the opposition in known methods, a new preventive measure was revealed yesterday. Journalists from Evrensel were surprised, when they inquired about their press passes, to find out that they no longer had any press credentials. Their press cards had been cancelled by the government.

This actually should not come as a surprise since the whole plan was in effect when the agency that gives the press credentials was moved to function under the Presidential Communications Administration.  Since then all new applications for press credentials had been effectively frozen.

Then it came out that the cancellation of press credentials was not limited to the Evrensel newspaper. Other opposition papers, Cumhuriyet and Birgün were also facing the same issue. Journalists working for these papers no longer had a press id.

The attack against the journalists was even bigger than originally thought. It wasn’t only those reporters out on the street, but administrators, page designers, editors, redactors, and even those working for the journalists’ unions had had their cards cancelled.

The journalists are inquiring about the reason for the revocation of their cards, however, the government refuses to answer. Questions have been completely ignored with no acknowledgment, explanation, owning, refusing, denying or announcing the decision by the government.

The journalist union Basın-İş which is a part of the labor confederation DİSK, published a condemnation of this method of silencing dissent in the media.  In a tweet, the union said, “We are reminding again. The press card given by the government is not a license of journalism.” The union is advocating the formation of a joint commission by the press organizations to administer and give press credentials.

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