Turkish President Gül admits decline of media freedom

Turkish President Gül admits decline of media freedom

Deniz ZEYREK Hürriyet / BUDAPEST
Turkish President Gül admits decline of media freedom

Turkish President Abdullah Gül (CR) and his wife Hayrunnisa (CL) plants a rosebush in the garden of the mausoleum of Turkish poet Gül Baba's tomb in Budapest on Feb 18, the last day of his three-day official visit to Hungary. Gül Baba means "Father of Roses," in Turkish, and the poet is said to have introduced this flower to the Hungary. AFP photo

The media has the right to rise up against “wrongful practices,” President Abdullah Gül has said during a trip to Hungary, expressing his concerns over ever-diminishing press freedom in Turkey.

Gül likened the weakening global image of Turkey to the fading of a light which had, until very recently, been shining brightly.

“There should be no pressure on the press,” Gül said yesterday as he wrapped up his visit. “In this regard, complaints are increasing.”

His remarks came upon journalists’ questions on the restricted level of press freedom that has been harming EU hopeful Turkey’s image, a pressure which has become more visible after tape recordings showing the government’s pressure on the media emerged. The recordings emerged almost simultaneously with tape recordings showing the alleged involvement of the government in corruption and bribery.

As Gül argued that no media institution should be intimidated but should do what it believed to be the right thing, he was asked whether he had something to say for those figures that had interfered in the media’s choices of broadcasting. 

“No such interference should happen,” Gül said. “Reporting is also a public duty. You are addressing millions of people and there is a responsibility there, too. When the situation requires it, the media should have self-control in line with various moral principles. And when the situation requires it, it should insist on doing what it believes is right to do. And if it sees something which is against what it believes is right, then it should rise against it,” the president said.

The image conveyed when the Parliament approved a controversial bill on the Internet amid brawls in the chamber was a particularly sensitive issue for Gül, as he said he received questions about the incident during his talks with Hungarian officials. Gül indicated that receiving such questions had been embarrassing.

In January, he took the initiative and held a series of meetings with both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and opposition leaders in a bid to defuse the row over the judiciary stemming from a damaging corruption scandal, Gül had expressed hopes of seeing a result from his efforts to resolve the controversy over the restructuring of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) through a constitutional amendment, but it has yet to happen. 

“Nice things will happen,” Gül said at the time. 

Reminded of his own remarks, the president was asked whether he still felt like saying so. Gül, first of all, underlined how he felt proud of representing a great state like Turkey as president.

“You are speaking of a country with which everybody wants to be friends. This image should never be disrupted. It is obvious that our light, which has shone extremely brightly, is not shining in the same way… [after] what happened in the recent period. We should resettle into our orbit. I’m saying this both for the nation and all political institutions,” Gül said.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has sparked harsh reactions both inside and outside of the country with the law on the HSYK which will boost its control over appointments to the high judiciary, and also with a bill that would tighten control of the Internet. Both moves are considered as a government attempt to black out the huge graft probe that broke out in mid-December and which involves former members of the Cabinet as well as businesspersons close to the government.