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World Press Freedom Review
2003 World Press Freedom Review
Turkey, who wishes to join the European Union ("EU") and hopes to begin accession talks in December 2004, has undertaken numerous political changes. For example, this year saw the removal of the ban on broadcasting in the Kurdish language.
However, Turkish journalists in 2003, faced pressure from government authorities, unknown assailants and natural phenomena.
Remzi Özkan, a Turkish journalist and the correspondent for the Anatolian News Agency (Anadolu Ajansı) in Moscow, was brutally attacked on 21 January. Unidentified assailants forcefully dragged him out of his car, and brought him to a storehouse outside of Moscow, where he was interrogated and beaten. The journalist was asked about his reporting in Chechnya, and the attackers wanted to know why Özkan referred to Chechens as terrorists, IFJ reported. He was then left on a street not far from Moscow, blindfolded and handcuffed.
In another attack on Turkish journalists abroad, Kemal Batur from Sky Turk television and Mesut Gengec, a cameraman for Show TV, were wounded in Iraq in April. The cars they were travelling in, along with other journalists, were shot at by soldiers in the Turkish populated Iraqi city of Mosul, then under control of Kurdish guerrilla groups. Kemal Batur sustained a hand injury, and Mesut Gengec was hit in the head by shrapnel.
In another attack in Iraq, a further two Turkish journalists were attacked by masked men speaking Kurdish, while they were on the way to Baghdad from the Northern Iraqi Turkish populated city of Kerkuk. Six armed men stopped the car and the journalists, Sami Tolga Adanali and Kenan Gurbuz, the driver and an Iraqi Arab passenger were ordered to get out and lie down on the ground. Their money, equipment and papers were confiscated. The attackers ignored the journalists when they said they were journalists from Turkey.
A 2001 case came to a close when Askin Ayrancioglu and Seyit Saatci, two Turkish editorial cartoonists, were charged with contempt of the state police. They were placed under house arrest in July 2001 for cartoons that appeared as part of a public exhibit at the Boyabat Public Library. One cartoon depicted a Kurdish mother mourning for her lost son and another cartoon focused on the military authorities. The cartoons were also confiscated at that time.
Hasan Özgün, a reporter with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, was released on 21 April. Özgün was first arrested in December 1993, and then on 17 January 1996. He received a 12 and a half-year prison sentence for membership in the Kurdistan Workers Party. Now Özgün faces another 12 year sentence for "insulting state institutions." This comes as a result of his 1998 petition for a new trial, where he accused security forces in south-eastern Anatolia of brutality under the state of emergency and of murdering journalists from pro-Kurdish newspapers, international press freedom groups reported.
In May, Hüseyin Kivrikoglu, the Turkish armys former chief of staff, decided not to appeal a Paris courts decision from 29 January. The decision rejected his lawsuit against RSF, which included his photograph in a photographic display of press freedom predators on a world map put up by RSF at Pariss Saint-Lazare station on 3 May 2002, World Press Freedom Day. Kivrikoglu had to pay RSFs court costs, amounting to 2,000 Euros. On World Press Freedom Day 2003, RSF included a photo of Kivrikoglus successor, General Hilmi Ozkok, in order to highlight the systematic harassment of Turkish journalists who dare to criticise the army and the fact that the army is accorded a permanent right of influence over the country's political life and press, RSF reported.
On 26 June, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed a lawsuit against Cem Uzan, prominent Turkish businessman and politician, and the mass media of the Uzan Group, for 900 billion Turkish lira. The National Broadcasting Council ("RTÜK") imposed a one-month suspension of five television stations on 3 July. The stations are owned by the Uzan family, and were suspended for allegedly defending the familys business interests during broadcasts. In a speech he made in the city of Bursa earlier in June, Cem Uzan, harshly criticised the government, for withdrawing a contract with Cukurova and Kepez, two utility companies owned by his family. Uzan also criticised the Prime Minister and his party, Justice and Development ("AK").
As the head of the Yong Party, he is a potential threat to the ruling party. His speech was broadcast on 13 and 14 June by the stations Star TV, Kanal 6, Star Max, Star 6 Heyecan TV and Footgol Star 8 TV. The lawsuit petition claimed that Uzans words were direct insults, rather than criticism, and the Prime Minister filed a defamation lawsuit against Uzan.
A Turkish photojournalist, Yashar Uguroglu Ojak, was killed by lightning in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan on 2 July.
On 18 July, the Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved a package of laws aimed at meeting European Union criteria after parliament overrode his earlier veto in June. But he was obliged to sign it this time. Sezer objected to doing away with a law banning separatist propaganda that has been used to jail academics, journalists and radicals because he feared lifting the ban would threaten national unity.
The new Press Bill was adopted in July. It includes amendments to the Press Law, announced by Besir Atalay, Minister of State, on 20 July. This controversial bill was drafted in consultation with mass media institutions, and protects journalists sources, and has new distribution guarantees. However, it was still criticized for not protecting the rights of mass media workers, and the inclusion of precautionary measures against monopolization and media ownership concentration.
The Turkish Supreme Structure of Television and Radio suspended the TV channel Star for a month as of 29 July. The channel was closed after reports about the poor health of Azerbaijans ailing President Heydar Aliyev and claiming that Azerbaijan spent US $34 million on his treatment in the U.S. Furthermore, Jan Atakli, a journalist with Star TV, invited the Azeri consul to Istanbul and said, "the Azeri consul thinks like a resident of Central Asia", Baku Today reported. Azeri Prime Minister and son of Heidar Aliev, Ilham, criticised Star TV for its biased and faulty reporting. However, closure of the channel is not related to this report, as the Turkish government has filed suit against it before.
The editor-in-chief Fatih Cekirge and editors Yilmaz Ozdil ve Iskender Baydar of the editorial board of the daily Star, resigned in August, in protest at a speech to staff by Cem Uzan criticising them for not standing firm enough against the allegations against himself and his family. According to reports, writers and leading reporters of the paper had resigned, as well as Ankara representative Murat Celik, economy editor Kadir Kilicparlar, sports editor Meric Tunca, Erdal Bilallar, Kenan Sonmezer and Cevher Kantarci.
Yiannis Kanelakis, a Greek television journalist and his colleague Anestis Moutafis who work for the independent television station Mega, were arrested and detained by the Turkish army on 7 October in Caykara, near Trabzon, in northern Turkey. RSF reported that Kanelakis was writing about the Greek Pontiac population living in the Pontos area of Turkey. He was accompanied by the president of the Greek Pontiacs Federation Stefanos Taximanidis and his assistant Stathis Taxidis. Police first arrested them on 5 October after a local resident complained they were "making Pontiac propaganda," and then they were detained by the army on 7 October and placed in detention. Taximanidis and Taxidis were later released but the journalists remained in detention. Their tape recordings and papers were confiscated.
The law on the right to access data and information was published in the 24 October edition of the Official Gazette (Resmi Gazete) and will be put into effect over the next six months.
On 27 October, Sinan Kara, the former owner of the general interest fortnightly Datça Haber and former correspondent for the Dogan news agency in the Datça region, was imprisoned for allegedly threatening Mert Ciller, son of former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. He is to serve a one-year prison sentence. Kara, who was taking photographs of Ciller on vacation in Datça, claimed that one of Cillers bodyguards attacked him, injuring him and damaging his camera. After Kara filed a complaint, the bodyguard produced witnesses who swore that Kara was the aggressor and that he had uttered threats.
Sinan Kara, who is known for articles criticising local political leaders, was imprisoned from 26 December 2002 to 7 February 2003 for failing to comply with a press law requirement for newspaper publishers to send two copies of each issue to the sub-prefects office, RSF reported.
On 31 October, 312 Turkish generals filed a lawsuit against the Islamist daily Vakit and one of its columnists, Asim Yenihaber. Among the generals were the chiefs of the land and air forces, and the navy and paramilitary forces. They demanded approximately US $422,000 in damages for an article by Yenihaber entitled "The country where a soldier who should not be a sergeant becomes a general" published on 25 August. In the article, the generals were described as pretentious and incompetent.
According to excerpts Yenihaber wrote, "there is nothing to show that they are generals apart from the stars on their shoulders." This is a very large sum for the newspaper. The generals argued that the article was likely to make the officers of the Turkish army look bad in the eyes of the population. The plaintiffs added, "no one has the right to offend and humiliate generals."
On 12 November, a court in Turkeys capital Ankara ordered the Star newspaper to pay approximately US $17,000 to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in compensation for defaming him. In the lawsuit, the Prime Ministers legal representatives claimed that the Star had published the full text of a speech given by Cem Uzan on 14 July in Bursa, where he had allegations that the Prime Minister went around the legal system in order to prevent the rise of the Young Party, Erdogans partys only rival. Cem Uzan has claimed that this is another politically motivated move against his family.
On 20 November, a bomb explosion shook Istanbul. Five bombs exploded, causing many casualties. Targets included the British Consulate and the headquarters of HSBC bank. Five days before, on 15 November, there were bomb attacks on two synagogues in Istanbul. There have been a number of incidents in the past year. Among them two explosions at McDonalds branches in Istanbul in April, and an explosion in the capital, Ankara, in May.
Turkish media executives issued a joint declaration after their convention in November, discussing media responsibility on terrorism. Press Council Chairman Oktay Eksi briefed the press after the two-and-a-half hour meeting, saying they looked for ways on how the media should fulfil its responsibility to the public concerning terrorism. "We cannot accept manipulation of the media by an external power. We have the maturity, ability and the right to evaluate our own practices."
The Prime Minister had criticised the media of broadcasting footage from the scene of terrorist attacks, showing injured people, and of revealing intelligence that should be a state secret. The conflict became more serious, when the police chief blamed the media for being responsible for the peoples deaths. He later apologised, but media responsibility with regard to terrorism remained an issue to be discussed.
Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah reportedly asked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make some amendments to the Press Law. "If it wasn't for the freedom of the press, 27 people wouldn't be dead," the Anatolia news agency quoted Cerrah as saying.
On 18 November Turkeys media regulator said it would permit limited television and radio broadcasts in Kurdish, reversing an 80-year ban. This change come as Turkey comes closer to membership talks with the EU.
The Turkish government has banned broadcasting in Kurdish and other minority languages since the formation of the Turkish republic in 1923, because it feared that expanded language rights might provoke division and discord in the population. Only nationwide TV and radio stations will be allowed to broadcast in Kurdish. This is one of the steps that the country must take before the EU can approve its application to begin accession talks at the December 2004 summit.
Erol Ozkoray, former editor-in-chief of the magazine Idea Politika, was arrested at Istanbul's Atatürk airport upon his arrival from Paris, on 22 December, and released the next day. The journalist is facing charges in a number of press-related cases. Ozkorays legal troubles stem from his criticism of the army and coverage of several taboo subjects, such as the Kurdish question, in his articles. An arrest warrant was issued against Ozkoray on 14 November in relation to an article criticising the army that he published in a 2001 edition of Idea Politika. That issue was never published because it was seized and banned by the Justice Ministry at the request of the chief of staff of the armed forces. The magazine has not been published since June 2002, RSF reported.
Sabri Ejder Öziç, former head of Radyo Dünya in Adana, southern Turkey, received a one year prison sentence on 30 December for "insulting and mocking" the Turkish Parliament during his radio programme "Captains Log," when he called the Parliament a terrorist. He appealed the sentence and has not been imprisoned.
Most of these cases show that while Turkey hopes to join the EU, the authorities are still trying to pressure the media, and politics are an integral part of the mass media environment, as politicians exercise considerable control over the countrys media outlets.
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