Interview: Turkish independent press threatened

BY:Communist Party USA| March 4, 2020
Interview: Turkish independent press threatened


The Turkish government has taken repressive measures against the independent press,  including Evrensel (Universal), a working-class newspaper. Evrensel has a significant circulation in Turkey and is sold at newsstands as a regular daily alongside the establishment press. It provides news relevant for labor and the oppressed peoples of Turkey in a country where news from other than the government is hard to come by. Turkey, a NATO member that aspires to become a member of the European Union, has been recently cited as the country with the most imprisoned journalists. Ekim Kılıç, a journalist for Evrensel, is from the Kurdish nationality in Turkey, although the government does not at present recognize such a category. He was recently interviewed by Yusuf Gürsey, a native of Turkey, on behalf of the People’s World.

Yusuf Gürsey: Before going into the details of recent events concerning Evrensel as well as the issue of press freedom and human rights in Turkey in general, could you please say something about the nature of the regime in Turkey and a characterization of Evrensel?

Ekim Kılıç: Thank you, Yusuf. Turkey transitioned from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. For Turkey, it means that a one-man/one-party regime was introduced to establish a fascist dictatorship. The events that have taken place in the last five years gave the Erdoğan government several opportunities to consolidate its power, centralize its authority, and defunctionalize the democratic accountability mechanisms, including freedom of the press. In that sense, Evrensel Daily has a very important place. Since 1995, our newspaper has been reporting from the slums, poor working-class neighborhoods, factories, sweatshops, in other words, the areas that the establishment media ignore as if they don’t exist.

YG: Thank you. Now please tell us the specifics of the recent repression against Evrensel.

EK: Recently, the Press Advertisement Agency (BİK) suspended our newspaper on September 18, 2019. Evrensel Daily won’t be able to publish announcements and advertisements, such as legal and public ones [resulting in a loss of income]. According to its decision, the agency mentioned that “papers that do not continue receiving public service advertisements for six months following a suspension . . . will lose permanently their right to receive these advertisements.” After refusing our appeal of their decision, BİK finally issued their report, which shows allegations for the suspension, on January 14, 2020. The allegations are scandalous. We had called our readers to stand in solidarity against the financial siege of the paper by Turkish authorities. Our campaign was called “Every day buy two copies of Evrensel: Read one, give one to someone to read.” They considered this campaign to be an element of a crime. Authorities of BİK reported on where the papers were taken after purchase. It shows that authorities followed our readers, physically, as an espionage tactic. The report even includes people who bought more than one copy of Evrensel Daily.

While we were besieged financially, press cards of our employees were canceled, along with those of hundreds of journalists. When our people looked at the “Press card interrogation” section of the BİK report, they saw the word “canceled” by the side of their cards. From our editor-in-chief to our Ankara Parliament reporter, all of them had their cards canceled without an explanation. After three days of cancellation, the Presidency Directorate of Communications restored the Yellow Press Cards. This was, of course, a result of organized struggle. Calls for solidarity and planned actions from the Turkish Union of Journalists (TGS) forced a step-back.

YG: Why Evrensel? Do similar things happen to other newspapers and media that don’t toe the government line?

EK: It is Evrensel Daily, because it is the only newspaper that reflects the worldview of the working class in Turkey. We carry the problems, all forms of oppression over working people and the oppressed, to our pages, such as workplace murders, laid-off workers, striking workers, sexist oppression over women workers, murders of women, racist attacks, especially on Kurdish, Syrian Arab, and Black workers, etc. In that sense, Evrensel Daily is an archive, a memory recorder of the working class and the oppressed. We stand for full installation of democratic freedoms in our country, such as freedom of assembly, erasing the obstacles in front of union organizing, guaranteeing the freedom of press.

As you said, the repression is not new against Evrensel Daily. Our newspaper shut down twice. On January 8, 1996, our reporter, Metin Göktepe, was taken into police custody while he was reporting. He was beaten and killed by the police in the Eyüp Sports Hall where he was taken. Metin Göktepe’s case was followed by journalists, press organizations, workers, and laborers who had been informed by Metin.  In this case, the police officers were sentenced to prison for the murder of a journalist. The struggle for the Göktepe case has a significance in which journalists and groups of people organized to defend the right to receive news. In our 25 years of publishing, thousands—without exaggeration—of lawsuits have been filed. Most of our co-workers have been judged many times.

The courts attached to the executive issued fines worth tens of thousands of Turkish liras to newspapers and reporters for reasons such as “insulting” and “damaging their commercial reputation.” [For example, Evrensel was fined for reporting on] the documented Isle of Man case, which revealed that the Erdoğan family opened off-shore accounts to evade taxes. [This was already announced by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, but even reporting on a publicly known case is cause for retaliation.]

And yes, other newspapers have been targeted too. For example, BirGün Daily has been targeted by the Press Advertisement Agency (BIK) too. Also, their press cards were cancelled. Last year, some writers of Cumhuriyet Daily were detained and punished over their opposition to government policies.

YG: I remember that the government shut down Hayat TV, a satellite and cable channel a few years ago, by decree. Could I please have your comments on this?

EK: Hayat TV was established in 2007 with the slogan “Not Billionairess, But Billions.” I was sixteen years old when the news channel was established. I recall that we went to working-class neighborhoods and unions with tin coin boxes for solidarity: “Every day one Turkish lira for Hayat TV.” By September 2015, I became its US correspondent. Throughout all of the station’s broadcasting life, we aimed to be a voice of the voiceless, the oppressed. Just for that reason, Hayat TV was shut down almost ten years ago. And I remember how the labor and democratic forces of Turkey raised up for their voice. It came back.

However, after the attempted coup of summer 2016, lots of TV channels, radio stations, and periodicals were shut down by several statutory decrees. Hayat TV was among them. The [ostensible] reason was to maintain state security and the public peace. Three managers of the TV channel had been under charges by the court for three years. They were just acquitted last year. The reason for shutting down the TV channel was funny. They accused us of “doing propaganda of PKK and FETO.” It demonstrated that the Erdoğan government took advantage of the attempted coup. Actually, he said that the attempted coup was “a gift from God.”

YG: Could you tell us more about the situation concerning freedom of the press in Turkey? What methods does the government use to maintain control of the media? I understand that most media in Turkey is owned by a conglomerate with close ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP. Could you please elaborate?

EK: It is important to note that suppression is not only against freedom of the press. The aim of these policies is to not allow the people to have true information about what is going on in the country. The news that has been given by the establishment media is absolutely mind-blowing—as if we are living in a different universe. [For example,] it is statistically confirmed that the minimum wage cannot cover the nutritional needs in Turkey. And as an apparent tendency, a lot of poor working people commit suicide by using cyanide or hanging themselves because of overwhelming economic problems. After discussing these problems, an establishment news channel showed a clip to address the health benefits of not having breakfast. The country is a dark comedy show, and only working people can change this tide.

You see, still, thousands of journalists are imprisoned. One can’t show me a single journalist who gave up on truth, or one who doesn’t have a court case. And court cases are generally the result of news articles seen as either defaming President Erdoğan or disrupting the public peace. Fines from judicial authorities are increasing, which maintains a financial burden over us. On the other side, occasional death threats are a part of the job. There are right now only a handful of printed newspapers along with the online press as alternative news sources.

YG: How about some words on human and labor rights in Turkey in general?

EK: Since the government increased authoritarian measures, people who struggle for peace, democracy, labor, environment, women rights, LGBT rights, and Kurdish national rights have been through several court cases, punishments, detentions, and jailing. A lot of deputies of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, including co-chairs, have been in prison for a long time. The prisons are full of journalists, writers, artists, university professors, and activists. The authority of the Turkish parliament is at its weakest. All authority is under the Erdoğan presidency now. Even the political decision of the Press Advertisement Agency, a so-called independent agency, can be considered as in the axis of presidency.

Nearly 70 elected mayors and hundreds of city council members, most of them in Kurdistan, were dismissed by the Ministry of Interior, and officials, who were called trustees, were appointed as governors and district governors.

And labor rights are not independent from that situation. Almost all unionized workers are under the threat of being fired. The right to protest is prohibited in most cities and towns for different reasons.

Strikes have been prohibited by the decision of the board of ministries, by the decision of the presidency. Almost all small local strikes can be broken by pressure. Banned ones are usually of large businesses such as steel, glass, etc. Sixteen of them were banned. Now 130,000 steel workers are at the end of the bargaining process. In the steel industry, there are two unions. A union has decided to strike. For example, this can be banned. However, this time the workers say, “We will not recognize the ban.”

Two years ago, President Erdoğan said in a meeting with bosses, “We are enforcing the state of emergency, so our business world work better.” Then he added, “Remember those days [when strikes were allowed]. Do you have anything like that now? On the contrary, we are interfering immediately in the places which are under the threat of strike. We say no, we do not tolerate strikes here because you cannot shake our business world.”

Moreover, all laws are on the side of bosses in collective bargaining. For example, you have to start a strike within a limited time period. If you can’t bargain with the bosses, and can’t go on strike within 60 days, the agreement doesn’t happen. For bosses, they have no disadvantage, but they have the right to lock out the strike.

For a long time, they have been pushing to seize severance pay funds and retirement benefits. Decreasing wages and long and flexible working hours are additional to all those. Workplace murders are at historic levels, primarily in mining and construction.

Turkish bosses are taking advantage of Syrian refugee children, most of them undocumented. In Istanbul, there are neighborhoods where these kids, 9- , 11- , 13-year-olds literally sleep on sewing machine benches out of exhaustion. And very ironically, these neighborhoods are located behind the Istanbul Caglayan Justice Palace. As claimed, it is the biggest justice palace in Europe.

Establishment media doesn’t look at this violence. As a newspaper, we called attention to all forces of labor, including the Syrian Arab migrant workers to embrace them as a part of our working class.

YG: What do you suggest we do here in the US for support and solidarity?

EK: We would like to see all our friends who are on the side of labor, peace, and democracy with us. The struggle for a just world arising across the world requires all of us to enhance international solidarity. Workers’ press plays an important role here. Because as the socio-economic conditions get worse and worse, it affects primarily workers. For example, we carried the GM workers’ solidarity message to steelworkers of Turkey a couple of months ago while GM workers were on strike. As a reply, our steelworkers sent a solidarity letter by our newspaper. We published this reply letter both in Turkish and English. You’ll see that throughout social media. Even some US workers were commenting under a post of this letter by trying to associate with the people of Turkey. For example, some British unions contributed to Evrensel to help pay fines. Some of them send observers in Evrensel’s court cases. As I remember, the French Renault workers’ union supported the strike of the Renault workers in Bursa, Turkey. So our call for solidarity is first of all to all US workers, then to people who struggle for a better world day and night.

Editor’s note: The interview was edited for clarity.

Image: edenpictures, Creative Commons (BY 2.0).



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