5 Yorumsuz – 5 Without Comment – 2015-05-05

1 – Press freedom and censorship – The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released a new report noting the strong moves against critical journalism in the country. Yavuz Baydar’s article on the CPJ website summarizes the situation, and his former newspaper, Today’s Zaman, also covers the story. Freedom House released its new report on global press freedom, ranking Turkey “not free” once again, with a worse score than last year, Hürriyet Daily News and Today’s Zaman report. On the heels of such reports, it is perhaps little surprise that even AK-Party officials find it hard to claim Turkey has a free press. Writer and professor Osman Özsoy, who lost his job at the pro-government paper Yeni Şafak after he criticized the government in the wake of corruption allegations, has been detained on suspicion of terrorism. The case of journalist Sedef Kabaş, in trouble for Tweeting about the same corruption scandal, has been sent to a higher criminal court in Istanbul. Pro-government paper Star and its writer Ergun Babahan have been fined for a piece written against media mogul Aydın Doğan in 2012. Prominent journalist Cüneyt Özdemir took to Twitter to note the heavy pressure his channel, Kanal D, is under from the government. As Today’s Zaman notes, he later edited some of his tweets to less directly implicate the government. Pop singer Sevval Sam has been questioned for her participation in a video commemorating Berkin Elvan. The Carmina Burana was removed from a performance schedule in Antalya at the last minute after Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say, who has been penalized and censored for his criticism of the government, pointed out that the piece touches on topics such as sex and alcohol. Journalists marched in Istanbul for press freedom on World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd) and also held a screening of the documentary Persona Non Grata, which deals with press restrictions in Turkey.

2 – Film and festivals – The banned film Bakur (North), dealing with Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey, was also screened for the first time on May 3rd, in an invite-based event that took place at Bosphorus University. The 10th annual Labor Film Festival opened on May 2nd in four cities, and its Istanbul gala was preceded by a march against censorship. The upcoming 18th annual Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival will start in Ankara on May 8th.

3 – Erdoğan’s image – Turkey’s president has been a constant feature in the news this week, making headlines for insulting the newly elected President of the Turkish Republic of Norther Cyprus, Mustafa Akıncı, and making repeated claims and threats against the Gülen movement (here, here, and here), in the lead-up to Turkey’s June elections. Erdoğan has responded to criticism from HDP party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who claimed that the president was abusing his office by campaigning on behalf of a particular party and doing so at taxpayers’ expense. (The president is bound by oath to be impartial.) Erdoğan claimed he has every right to hold such rallies because he won the presidential election with 52% of the vote. Meanwhile, a pro-HDP ad has responded to taunts from Erdoğan, who recently asked rhetorically of Demirtaş, “who are you?” (implying, who are you to question me?), by releasing an ad inviting Erdoğan and voters to get to know the party. The ad is here. On a related note, government channel TRT made headlines for switching from live coverage of AK-Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu to that of Erdoğan the moment the latter began to speak in a different part of Turkey. As always, the list of those detained, on trial, or penalized for insulting Erdoğan continues to grow, with developments in cases against journalist Bülent Keneş, lawer Umut Kılıç, and columnist Mümtazer Türköne. An interesting addition to this list is the case of a Turkish Armed Forces commander, M.E.A., who, under order from an AK-Party appointed regional governor, Musa Işın, became involved in an altercation with the PKK in early April. Many had speculated that this was an AK-Party tactic to increase nationalistic votes but, if so, the intended nationalist fervor did not reach great heights, in part because no Turkish soldiers were killed (some sources say this is because PKK guerrillas intentionally shot only at soldiers’ feet), and in part because HDP members intervened quickly to transport wounded soldiers to safety, an effort that was verified by the armed forces. Now, according to Taraf and reported in English by Today’s Zaman, the head of the unit that led the attack, M.E.A., is under investigation for insulting Erdoğan via social media in 2012.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 7.29.01 PMOn a somewhat lighter note, British cyclist Mark Cavendish became a social media phenomenon when he tried to leave the podium in the midst of a very long speech Erdoğan was giving after the Tour of Turkey. He was forced to return to the podium for the remainder of the speech. Finally, the story of severely botched restorations at a mosaic museum in Antakya was given a comic twist when Penguen cartoonist Selçuk Erdem tweeted an image of one of the restorations with the comment: “maybe the goal of restoration in the museum was to make it look like Erdoğan.”

4 – May Day –  Amidst reports that 351 workers in Turkey have already died in 2015, the government decided, once again, to ban demonstrations in Taksim on that day. A number of groups made plans to head there nonetheless, and pro-government paper Vahdet made headlines when it reported on a poster from one such group, the United June Movement (BHH). The poster features an image of the Beatles, but Vahdet claimed it was “Gezi activists.” When this mistake was brought to the attention of editors, they claimed to be proud not to know who the Beatles were. Both Hürriyet Daily News and Today’s Zaman report on various clashes between police and protestors that took place, with a total of 339 people reportedly being detained. Numerous outlets reported on a group of shopkeepers who apparently beat activists attempting to get to Taksim and then later bragged that the police had thanked them for the help.

5 – TV developments – Turkish TV and radio regulator RTÜK granted permission for the Ismailağa sect to open a channel. Popular cleric Cubbeli Ahmet is among the most famous members of the sect in Turkey and will likely appear on the channel. Turkish TV drama Kurt Seyit and Şura, which received massive investment in Turkey but was nonetheless cancelled due to poor ratings, has started airing in Spanish on Mundo Fox TV in the US. And Oktay Alkaya writes for Radikal about the 1990s TV program Plastic Show, noting that Turkey’s situation has really changed in terms of what’s admissible on TV in the form of political satire.

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