“Everyone must protect their business. They must stand by what they believe in. They must do this regardless of what others say. There may be some experiences [of government intrusion], but media outlets should do what they think is correct. Why would they be worried?” the president said when speaking to Turkish journalists on Monday while in Budapest.
The president’s comments followed remarks from Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı last week in which the editor said on live TV that there is intense government pressure on the Turkish media. “Instructions are pouring down every day [on media groups] from somewhere,” Altaylı said, adding: “There is pressure on all of us. Today, the dignity of journalism is being crushed underfoot. Everybody is afraid [of losing his or her job].”
In a related development that also took place last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan acknowledged that he had called an executive of a mainstream news station while on an official visit to Morocco in June 2013 to discuss the station’s coverage of comments by an opposition leader. “Yes, I called [the news executive]. I called about the insults directed at us [the government] in the news ticker. And they [the station’s management] did what was necessary. We [the government] have to teach such things [to the media],” the prime minister said during a press conference.
When journalists asked Gül if he would issue any warning advising against government intervention in the media, the president said: “Such interference should not happen. Such a thing cannot happen. But, furthermore, broadcasting is also a public duty. You [media] speak to millions of people. This comes with a responsibility. Members of the media should use self-control when necessary. They should warn themselves on issues of morality when necessary. They should insist on the things they consider correct when necessary. And they should revolt when necessary.”
The president also said complaints about Turkey’s worsening record on press freedom are increasing, and Turkey should immediately take action. “We have to correct this quickly. There is a difference between perception and facts. The perception makes it seem more dangerous [than it is]. If there are things that contribute to the perception [that Turkey has little press freedom] we should correct them,” he stated.
According to the Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2014 World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, Turkey still ranks 154th. In addition, a report issued last week by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) states that Turkey “continues to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists.” According to the annual prison census conducted by the CPJ, Turkey is the “world’s leading jailer of the press, with 40 journalists behind bars” for the second year in a row.
Gül also said fights among lawmakers in Parliament are a source of embarrassment for Turkey. “Everything that happens in one corner of the world is being followed everywhere else. Indeed, some things happened [in Turkey, referring to a fistfight between several deputies over the weekend] that embarrassed me. A deputy suffered a broken nose. Blood and other things… These are not nice things,” he said, and added that these incidents do not happen in democratic countries. “We should not witness such things,” the president noted.
Tension was high over the weekend as deputies discussed legislation to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The bill was approved by Parliament on Feb. 15 after fighting erupted between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition. Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ali İhsan Köktürk was hospitalized with a broken nose and AK Party deputy Bayram Özçelik’s finger was broken.
According to the president, several recent developments have created an image of Turkey as a “noisy country” in the eyes of other countries, an image which he said Turkey must eliminate. “All political actors should watch their language. They should revise their language. The atmosphere will change thanks to more dialogue,” he stated.
Commenting further on the new HSYK legislation, Gül said he has not seen the final version yet and that he will examine it when he returns to Turkey. “I will see if there are any problematic aspects,” he said, adding that he cannot tell if the law has any provision that violates the Constitution. The president did not comment on whether he will sign or veto the bill.
The president had said in February of last year that no changes to the top judicial body were necessary because Turkey had brought its legal system in line with EU institutions with a 2010 constitutional referendum.
“I am convinced that there is no need for a change in the HSYK or the Constitutional Court,” the president said on a CNN Türk program.
In response to a question about AK Party government plans to draft a regulation to overcome problems that may arise with the newly passed Internet legislation, the president said the issue with the bill is not something that could be fixed with a regulation, but he did not elaborate.
A revision to Internet-related law was approved in Parliament earlier this month and is currently awaiting the signature of the president. The bill has raised concerns over the government’s increasing encroachment into people’s private lives as well as into the different mediums through which people can express their social and political opinions.
When asked his opinion about a recent statement by the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) that it will declare autonomy for Kurds in Turkey’s Southeast following the March local elections, Gül said: “Different opinions may be voiced by people. But I do not think that such autonomy would be to the benefit of Turkey or anyone.”