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Turkey13 March 2007

Leaked reports show army and government abuse accreditation system

Leaked reports by the army high command and the prime minister’s office that were published in the Turkish press on 8 and 9 March show that the news media are classified according to their support for government policies and that the procedures for issuing press accreditation are used to undermine critical newspapers and journalists and reward those that support the armed forces, Reporters Without Borders said today

“We condemn this use of black-lists and these attempts to neutralise journalists by depriving them of their raw material, information,” the press freedom organisation said. “The armed forces like to portray themselves as the guardians of society and yet they try to gag those journalists they consider to be troublesome. Such procedures are not compatible with democratic principles. The Turkish should abandon such practices aimed at influencing the media.”

Reporters Without Borders said it supported the protests voiced by the Turkish Association of Journalists (TGC), the Contemporary Association of Journalists (CGD), the Union of Journalists of Turkey (TGS) and the Press Council (Basin Konseyi) against the methods of the army high command and the prime minister’s office.

Noting that these organisations said the accreditation system had always been problematic in Turkey, Reporters Without Borders added: “Like them, we hope that the outcry about these reports will help to shake up this system and change these practices.”

The aim of the leaked high command’s report, written in November 2006 by the army’s departmental directorate for public relations and published on 8 March, was to evaluate the “loyalty” of the media towards the Turkish Armed Forces (FAT) and to ban those regarded as weakest from attending or participating in military activities such as news conference and guided tours.

The report’s authors were fully aware of the harm done by a refusal to issue accreditation. The report included this comment: “Not granting accreditation to media regarded as not very credible has also contributed to these media being held in low esteem by the public.”

The report analysed the editorial line of 19 daily newspapers, 18 TV stations, eight magazines and five news agencies. There is no mention of any pro-Islamist media as the army refuses to grant them any accreditation as a matter of principle.

A footnote said this about the daily Radikal: “This is a newspaper that the FAT should follow closely. It is liable at times to differentiate itself on the subject of the FAT. During the period March-July 2005, the newspaper employed the term ‘death’ for the FAT martyrs. This elicited criticism. The subject was raised on 21 July 2005 during a briefing for the media and the newspaper has since improved its editorial line thanks to the sensitivity of the managing editor, Ismet Barkan.”

As a result, the army recommended that the newspaper’s accreditation should be renewed but that the four columnist who had criticised the FAT - Nuray Mert, Yildirim Türker, Murat Belge and Hasan Celal Güzel - should not receive individual accreditation.

The army report recommended that accreditation of the UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly should be maintained but that its correspondent, Lale Sariibrahimoglu, should not be invited to FAT activities for journalists. Her accreditation had already been cancelled by the army when she wrote for the conservative daily Bugün.

In a final example, the report noted that Erol Mütercimler, the presenter of the programme “Press Club,” was a fierce critic of the army, even getting into conspiracy theory. It recommended that his TV station’s accreditation should be provisionally suspended and that the station’s owner, Ufuk Güldemir, and some of its journalists, should be barred from military activities for the press.

On 9 March, the day after the leaked report was first published, the army issued a press release announcing a judicial investigation, without saying whether it was an internal investigation or one targeted at the media that had published the report.

The same day, the daily Cumhuriyet published an article on the “Monthly report by the prime minister’s office,” consisting of a sort of classification of the media. The prime minister’s press office described the article as “unreal and deliberate” and insisted that “no such report has ever been submitted to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

According to the newspaper, the report even included the fact that journalists Nuray Basaran, Enis Berberoglu, Oral Calislar and Güngör Uras drank 2002 vintage Syrah Calvet French red wine during a visit to Lebanon on 5 July 2005.

The Islamist daily Yeni Safak (New Dawn) is identified in the report as an essential support for Prime Minister Erdogan and his government. The committed Islamist daily Vakit (Time) is praised for “deflecting criticism of the government over the Muslim headscarf”and the Islamist daily Zaman is praised for being “free of prejudice towards any group or person.”

Other newspapers are not held in such high esteem. The republican Cumhuriyet is “rarely objective,” the liberal centrist Millyet is said to have improved after Sedat Ergin became its editor and “the articles and content became more positive.” The liberal right daily Sabah (Morning) is accused of becoming more negative, publishing fewer stories about the government and putting them on the inside paged when it did.

As for the liberal right newspaper Hürriyet (Freedom), the report says it “no longer puts the government’s activities on its front page since its leading journalists were not allowed on the prime minister’s plane during and his US visit, and the reports on the government are quite short.”

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join, has said Turkey will not be able to meet democratic standards as long as the army continues to exercise influence over non-military matters. The Turkish Armed Forces, which often portray themselves as a bulwark against Islamism, have seized power three times, the last one in 1980.

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