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Threatened Turkish news media reaches EU agenda

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/21/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Growing concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey will be high on the agenda of the EU in the post-referendum period, European diplomats have said.

Growing concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey will be high on the agenda of the European Union in the post-referendum period, European diplomats have said.

“It is obvious that we will follow more closely such attempts [to limit freedom of expression],” an ambassador from one of the EU countries told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday. “We know it is a very delicate issue. We try to address it from time to time.”

European diplomats commented specifically on the case of Bekir Coşkun, a veteran columnist critical of many government actions who was recently fired from his newspaper, daily Habertürk, allegedly as the result of pressure from government circles.

“If he was fired upon the government’s pressure, then this is very serious,” another EU diplomat said, comparing the Turkish government’s treatment of writers with a critical stance to actions taken by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Such treatment is not appropriate under universal principles, the diplomat said.

Recent reports by international press organizations such as the International Press Institute and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Representative on Media Freedom have urged the Turkish government to take the necessary steps to secure legal and social rights for journalists. The OSCE also asked for the immediate release of 48 journalists who have been arrested for their journalistic activities.

In its annual reports, the European Union often criticizes the Turkish state for putting pressure on media groups and individual journalists who publish critical coverage of the government. According to the diplomats, the next annual EU progress report, set to be released in November, will likely revisit the ongoing issue of the world-record tax levy imposed on the Doğan Media Group, the parent organization of the Daily News.

Press freedom, and specifically Habertürk’s decision to part ways with columnist Coşkun was also on the agenda of opposition chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during his recent visit to Germany. Criticizing the EU for not being vocal enough on violations of fundamental human rights in Turkey, the head of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, called for more action from his social democrat counterparts.

After being briefed on the developments, Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the German Social Democrat Party, said violation of the freedom of expression is a key obstruction on Turkey’s road to the EU. “There should be no censorship and a reporter should not be fired just because he expresses his opinion,” Gabriel said. “I have not been informed enough on the topic [of Coşkun] to make any comments. I can just say that freedom of thought is one of the most important subjects in EU integration.”

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