News / Europe

Restrictions on Turkish Media Tighten

Turkish journalists demonstrate outside the governor's office to protest censorship and new regulations on media freedoms and Internet bans in Istanbul, Feb. 16, 2014.
Turkish journalists demonstrate outside the governor's office to protest censorship and new regulations on media freedoms and Internet bans in Istanbul, Feb. 16, 2014.
Dorian Jones
Turkey's President Abdullah Gül has signed controversial new Internet control measures into law despite national and international criticism and concerns about reduced freedoms for Turkish media. VOA's Dorian Jones met in Istanbul with the founder of an independent Internet news site that has been at the forefront of the battle over Internet and press freedom.

The website features a mixture of professional and citizen journalism. According to its founder, Serdar Akinan, such sites have become increasingly popular, especially in the last couple of months, due to extensive allegations of high-level government corruption. But Akinan said reporting on corruption put Vagus itself in the news.

"We started to publish some corruption allegations about the prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan]. But all of sudden, one night, like two weeks ago, they shut [us] down, they closed the site. And 12 days we stayed closed, but after I became an issue in Turkey ... they were forced to open the site," said Akinan.

In a parliamentary address, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, demanded to know why Vagus website was blocked. That pressure appeared to work and the authorities reopened the site, providing little in the way of explanation as to why it was closed and then reopened.

This is not the first time that Akinan has crossed swords with the government. He was once a well-known and established mainstream journalist, working as an editor at some of the top Turkish news TV channels.

But, he claimed, he has become a marked man for pursuing an editorial policy that is impartial, including its coverage of Prime Minister Erdoğan.

"Two years ago I was editor-in-chief of Sky Turk News Channel, so because of my broadcasting policy, let's say there was huge pressure. I know that the government, especially Prime Minister Erdoğan, pushed very hard for firing me, and one day they fired me. I was writing also [a] column for Aksam daily, and also I was fired from there. So Vagus was born like that," said Akinan.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in its recent report about attacks on the press during the past year, highlighted what it contends is the widespread policy in Turkey of firing journalists critical of the government. Similar concerns were reflected by the European Union in its latest report on Turkey’s membership bid. Charges the government denies, insisting that media freedom has improved under its rule.

Akinan’s launch of the site fortuitously coincided with last summer’s wave of anti-government demonstrations, known as the Gezi Park protests. With mainstream media widely suspected of being under government pressure to play down the unrest, news sites like Vagus filled the vacuum. But it proved to be a bittersweet success.

"Vagus, after the Gezi Park protests, reached 2 million unique visitors per month, which is quite a big number for Turkey. And I go check all the advertising companies, and they say this is quite a good number and normally you should get this amount of advertising, but we cannot give to you. Because your site, you are doing some news, and that the prime minister is not happy with you, and you are on the blacklist," said Akinan.

And it is likely that things will get worse for Akinan.

Earlier this month, thousands of people protested against the government's move to extend its control over the Internet. The sweeping legislation gives the ruling AK Party the power to close websites deemed to threaten individual privacy, without a court order. Akinan admitted the new law could force him out of business.

"Before that it was just judges ... deciding bad and good content. Now it’s the bureaucrats - bureaucrats appointed by the prime minister himself. There is no more justice for the journalists. My wife and me, we are planning to go outside Istanbul, we will open an organic farm and we will live like that," he said.

Observers warn that Ankara is likely to face growing domestic and international pressure over Internet and journalist freedom.

On Tuesday, President Gül expressed concern about dwindling press freedom in Turkey, saying the media have the right to rise up against “wrongful practices.” He compared Turkey's global image to that of a light which had been shining brightlhy but is now fading.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs