Officials of the coalition parties in Turkey accused some of the independent media outlets of allegedly receiving funds from foreign institutions and of being “foreign agents”, fuelling a similar campaign of attack in the state media.
On 21 July Fahrettin Altun, the Presidential Director of Communications, said, “We won’t allow our democracy to become an appetiser on anyone’s table under the cover of press freedom. We won’t permit fifth column activities in new guises… We will prepare regulations required for the protection of public order and to ensure our people’s access to correct news as soon as possible.”
While Erkan Akçay, parliamentary group chair of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), was calling journalists working at independent media outlets “paid agents” and “servants of the US”, Muhammet Emin Akbaşoğlu, chair of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) group said, “those in the payroll of foreign powers, using their pens as a weapon for the interests of those powers against their own country, are no different to those hiring their minds out to imperialists, turning their weapons against our people.”
State media launches campaign
The state media joined in immediately with articles appearing in dailies like the Sabah, Hürriyet and Yeni Şafak.
Mahmut Övür from the Sabah called the targeted outlets “the lackey press”, naming some of them: the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), Medyascope (webcasting on platforms like Periscope, Youtube and Facebook with 240,000 followers on Twitter), Serbestiyet and 140Journos (316,000 followers on Twitter).
Övür wrote in the Sabah: “The worst thing is that left-wing politicians and journalists who used to identify themselves with the anti-US stance of Deniz Gezmiş [a youth leader hanged with two friends after the 1971 military coup in Turkey] have simply shut their eyes to the delivery of thousands of trucks of weapons by the US to PKK-YPG, and to its using the latter as a military ground force against the countries in the region.”
Ahmet Hakan, the editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet, wrote in his column that the independent media outlets receiving funds had to admit that they were not impartial: “The funding itself is not a problem. Some foundations in the US may fund some media outlets in Turkey. The problem lies in the latter boasting, ‘We’re such fantastically independent media outlets, the others are so this and that…’ If they could just say, ‘Actually we’re funded, and so obviously not so independent’, there would be no problem.”
Hasan Öztürk from Yeni Şafak targeted Medyascope and its founder Ruşen Çakır in particular in his column, claiming that the outlet had received $476,000 between 2016 and 2020 from the US-based Crest Foundation.
He wrote: “We see that the American foundation has given grants to other media outlets as well. But Ruşen Çakır’s internet site is a good example of how a biased outlet presents itself as an independent one. The ‘biased media’ wants to give us a lesson on independent journalism!”
The Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK), the state agency established after the 1980 military coup in Turkey to monitor, regulate and sanction radio and television broadcasts, jumped in quickly, pointing to “negative propaganda pumped into society”. In its press release it said: “It’s an unfortunate fact that those from abroad who have designs on Turkey frequently use the media in their arguments. Codes of hostility to Turkey are produced under the pretence of press freedom, and negative propaganda is pumped into society… Our native and national media isn’t alone. Our country always stands by its own national publication institutions.”
Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), whose partner organisations include the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), the Broadcast and Press Workers Union of Turkey (Basın-iş) and the Turkish Association of Journalists, issued a statement condemning “statements by government officials pertaining to the introduction of new regulation of so-called fake news and ‘foreign-funded’ news in the country.”
“Officials’ targeting of several critical and independent media outlets for securing funds abroad is a clear move to stifle further the free media in Turkey by controlling content. We call on the Turkish legislators to ensure that any new measures are fully in line with Turkey’s obligations under domestic and international law that protect free speech and media pluralism” the statement said.
Kadri Gürsel, a prominent journalist imprisoned for 11 months in 2016-17 for coverage he wrote in the daily Cumhuriyet, reacted saying, “It is obvious that the independent media in Turkey can’t live without any funds under the financial embargo of the government, so what is the reason for this assault against Medyascope, which published its list sponsors long ago?”