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Analysis: Turkish court overturns ban on

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by BBC Monitoring Media Specialists on 25 October

Turkey's highest administrative court overturned a ban on 25 October imposed by the country's broadcast regulator that prohibited the broadcast of "negative" reports on an attack by PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) fighters which left 12 Turkish solders dead and eight captured.

Acting on a government request, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) had said broadcasting news about the deaths harmed society and public order and created an image of the security forces as "weak".

This decision to impose the ban was taken in spite of EU warnings to Turkey to complete reforms in the field of freedom of expression, before the publication of its annual progress report in early November.

Watchdog bans broadcasts

According to Turkish paper Today's Zaman on 24 October, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek contacted RTUK and asked for a ban on all programmes regarding the Kurdish militants' attack in south-eastern Turkey. Following this request, the broadcasting watchdog banned all broadcasts on this subject inside the country.

The RTUK order said: "Regarding the terrorist attacks on 21 October in the province of Hakkari, in accordance with Article 25 of the Law on the Foundation of Radio and Television Stations, it is appropriate to halt broadcasts that hurt the psychology of society and public order, and create an image of the security forces as weak; therefore social responsibility requires elevating the spirits of the security forces, protecting the psychology of the children and lifting the spirits of the people."

While such reporting remained banned within Turkey, the same news could be obtained from foreign sources by anyone! with an internet connection.

On 23 October, the Kurdish Amsterdam-based Firat news agency published the names and photographs of eight Turkish soldiers taken prisoner in clashes in the border region; while media sources around the world carried statements from a PKK spokesman on the condition of the captives.

Media criticizes ban

Despite the ban on "negative" coverage of the Kurdish attack, Turkish media had already begun to publish interviews with the relatives of the prisoners, and on 25 October the Council of State overturned the order.

"There is no doubt that such broadcasting bans, whose limits remain unclear, will create doubts in the minds of broadcasters as to how they should abide by the law," the court said.

TV Kanal D had openly criticized the ban during its main evening news, while SKYTurk's news anchor said "Broadcasting on Turkey's most important agenda item is suddenly banned. We will report on different stories."

The Turkish Journalists' Association criticized the ban as censorship, said the Turkish Daily News on 25 October.

This incident has illustrated a less-than-perfect relationship between media and government on vexed issues of war reporting and freedom of speech issues, just as the European Union has urged T! urkey to further examine its laws governing the media.

EU asks Turkey to address media law

The EU Commission's Jean-Christophe Filori told the Turkish Daily News that "Turkey needs to send strong signals for freedom of expression."

Welcoming the local TV and radio channels in Diyarbakir and in Sanliurfa which have been allowed to broadcast in Kurdish, the European Commission considers that Kurdish broadcasts are still limited in time and content.

There are strict controls on Kurdish-language broadcasting in Turkey, requiring equal and equivalent programming in Turkish, greatly restricting broadcast time.

Prosecutions over "Turkishness"

According to the English-language Turkish Daily News, the European Commission will report that the number of indictments related to the expression of non-violent opinion doubled since 2005, the majority under Article 301 of the Penal Code which penalizes insulting "Turkishness", the Republic and organs and institutions of the state.

The Commission will also report that Article 301 has also been used to prosecute expression of opinion on Armenian and Kurdish issues and the role of the military, the paper said.

A Turkish court recently convicted two journalists for publishing content that mentions early 20th-century Armenian massacres as genocide.

According to Reporters without Borders on 12 October, Arat Dink (son of murdered journalist Hrant Dink) and Serkis Seropyan, editors at Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, were given one-year suspended sentences after Dink gave an interview to Reuters claiming that the massac! res were a genocide. The government of Turkey officially denies that genocide took place.

Premier's proposal fails to satisfy journalists

A proposal floated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for amending Article 301 has failed to satisfy journalists and human rights activists.

According to Today's Zaman on 24 October, Erdogan proposed that the first paragraph of the article, which suggests "those insulting Turkishness are to be penalized for six months to three years" should be kept as it is. "But the fact that 'Turkishness' does not refer to 'ethnic origin' but to constitutional citizenship should be clarified," he said.

Journalist Erdal Safak from Sabah daily thinks that this "clarification" will not solve the problem, saying it will not prevent prosecutors from indicting people who demand that Armenian claims of genocide be examined by historians.

In an atmosphere where nationalist sentiments are high, the government does not seem to be willing to question the notion of "Turkishness" while attempting to control reporting on military deaths! .

This unwillingness may explain why journalists are still prosecuted in Turkey, and why the Turkish broadcast regulator is able to attempt to prohibit the reporting of unpleasant news.

Source: BBC Monitoring research 25 Oct 07



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