A damning tape has been recently released in Turkey, allegedly a voice recording of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan telling a media executive to stop running coverage critical of him. The conversation in question occurred during last summer’s popular uprising over Gezi Park that escalated to an indictment of Erdogan’s Islamist government and its increasing controls over the private lives of the Turkish people.
It is the second allegation of press censorship against Erdogan in a week based on a voice recording.
The allegations follow the approval last week of a new bill approved by the parliament that would allow any internet site to be blocked by the telecommunications authority without approval by a court. In addition, internet providers would be required to keep records of each subscriber’s online activity which then would be available to authorities upon request.
The bill awaits signature by Turkish president Abdullah Gul to become law.
In addition, a February 3 report released by Freedom House, a well-respected non-governmental organization, documents severe restrictions and pressures on the Turkish media by the government over the last seven years and, specifically, since the corruption scandal that erupted in the higher ranks of the Turkish government in December, 2013.
After interviewing journalists as well as business and civil leaders and upper-level government officials, the report, titled “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media and Power in Turkey,” says that the government has used intimidation, imprisonment and wiretapping to rout out unfavorable coverage.
“Editors and journalists in the mainstream media say that they receive regular phone calls from the prime minister’s office to change stories, to downplay coverage, or to fire reporters or columnists.”
Last Friday, the Turkish newspaper Zaman said one of its journalists was forced to leave the country after making a comment critical of Erdogan on his Twitter account. Mahir Zeynalov, a native of Azerbaijan was “escorted onto a plane” by Turkish police in Istanbul.
Zaman is said to have a close relationship to Erdogan’s nemesis Fethullah Gullen, who Erdogan has accused of engineering a corruption scandal involving many top officials close to Erdogan to bring down his government.
Erdogan has replaced hundreds of policemen in an attempt to thwart a second round of corruption allegations, this time against Erdogan’s own son as well as others closest to him.
In addition, he has replaced the two main prosecutors in charge of the corruption probe as well as purging 90 of the 192 prosecutors of the main courthouse in Istanbul.
In the latest recording that has been released, Erdogan, on a visit to Morocco at the time, can be heard telling Fatih Sarac, director of the Istanbul-based TV channel Haberturk, to remove a news scroll at the bottom of the screen that was quoting the speech of the opposition party’s leader Devlet Bahceli, criticizing the government.
On the recording, Erdogan allegedly can be heard saying to Sarac, “Fatih, are you watching the press meeting [of Bahceli] currently being aired [on Haberturk]? Fatih, you are not aware of what you are doing?”
Erdogan continues, “Fatih, look, I am now watching TV in Morocco. The speech of Bahceli is on and now it is also scrolled. The scroll says, 'The first duty of the president is not to hold discussions but improve the situation and take the steps to calm down the country. …' This is what Bahceli said and now it is on a scroll.”
When Sarac tells Erdogan that the station normally broadcasts parliamentary group meetings of all political parties represented in the Turkish parliament, the prime minster pointedly says, “I can't believe it! Do you have to broadcast such a thing?”
Apparently realizing what criticism from Erdogan can mean, Sarac responds, “Yes, sir. I'll get it stopped immediately. I'm sorry.” The feed of the press meeting was then cut from Sarac’s station.
According to the recording, Sarac then calls Erdogan’s son, Bilal, and asks him to communicate to his father further apologies, saying, "I wish our respected elder did not worry. When he feels worried, I also feel worried.”
The following video was made by Freedom House as a companion to their report (cited above):