Accessibility links

Breaking News

Turkish Party Officials Criticized Over Journalist’s Treatment

FILE - Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, is pictured at an election rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 23, 2018.

Media organizations this week expressed concern about the harassment of a VOA journalist who tried to question the leader of the Turkish far-right Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

Journalist Yildiz Yazıcıoglu directed a question at Devlet Bahceli after the party met in the parliament building in Ankara on Tuesday.

The MHP has a political alliance with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Video of the incident shows Bahceli walking through a crush of reporters. As Yazıcıoglu calls out a question, Bahceli is heard saying, “Mind your own business.”

Bahceli’s chief of staff then pushes microphones away, and a party deputy appears to shove Yazıcıoglu out of the way.

Following the incident, members of the MHP and its supporters criticized Yazıcıoglu on social media.

MHP lawmaker Ismail Ozdemir accused the journalist on Twitter of “acting like a provocateur under the pretext of asking a question.”

A hashtag referring to Yazıcıoglu as “agent provocateur” spread on Twitter, and social media posts directed slurs and hostile comments at the reporter, saying the Turkish people will silence VOA.

Yazıcıoglu had been seeking comment from Bahceli about the death of Sinan Ates, the former head of an ultranationalist group known as the Grey Wolves that is often referred to as the youth wing of the MHP.

After gunmen killed Ates in Ankara last December, some nationalist supporters criticized the MHP for not commenting on the killing.

In a parliamentary address this month, Bahceli said some people were trying to use the killing to cast a shadow on the party “with baseless accusations that aim to create cracks” in the alliance it has formed with the AKP.

The Grey Wolves, which have operated inside Turkey for decades, have been accused of politically motivated violence mainly against left-wing leaders, ethnic Kurds and Turkey’s Alevi sectarian minority.

The shadowy group has also come under increasing scrutiny in Europe since French officials banned it in 2020 for taking violent actions and inciting hate speech.

VOA sent emails requesting comment from the spokespeople for MHP’s media and public affairs departments, and to the Turkish embassy in Washington, but had not received a response before the time of publication.

Opposition lawmakers and media advocates defended Yazıcıoglu, saying the media’s job is to ask questions.

Ozgur Ozel, deputy chair of the parliamentary group of Turkey's main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, shared a video of the incident on social media and said, “Journalists are not the people who ask the questions you want. We condemn the verbal reprimand and physical intervention against journalists who ask questions on behalf of the public.”

Ali Babacan, chair of the Deva Party, which is part of the opposition alliance formed against the ruling AKP, criticized the way the MHP leader spoke to the journalist.

Turkey’s Parliamentary Reporters Association said physical intervention against journalists by officials or party members is unacceptable.

Yazıcıoglu said she regretted becoming the subject of a news report.

“The saddest part is it was not a politician’s security detail but a parliamentarian who physically pushed me,” she told VOA. “Bahceli had not been directly asked about the murder and the allegations surrounding it before. I wanted to ask him if he would like to respond. It was disturbing to see that I was accused of being a provocateur on top of what happened.”

Turkish media groups also rejected comments that Yazıcıoglu was a provocateur.

Faruk Eren, chair of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, said such accusations against Yazıcıoglu were unacceptable. Yazıcıoglu is a member of the union.

“Yıldız Yazıcıoglu, in a very decent manner, posed a question, the answer to which the Turkish public was interested to know. But she was told to mind her own business. In fact, this is her business — to ask questions,” he told VOA.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said, “In democracies, persistent questions from a journalist is an ordinary situation where people who call themselves politicians should adapt.

“If a colleague is being labeled as a provocateur and told to mind her own business just because she asked a question as part of her job, it’s an indication that those longing for a closed society have got the jitters,” Onderoglu told VOA.

Sibel Gunes, secretary-general of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, said journalists are working in an intimidating environment, where some politicians have threatened reporters or made them targets.

Ozgur Ogret, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Yazıcıoglu “was not a threat.”

“Turkish politicians and their security staff should be more respectful to the media’s right to report the news, which obviously includes asking hard questions to the authorities,” he said in a statement to VOA.

Voice of America’s public relations director, Bridget Serchak, said the broadcaster is concerned by an “unprovoked and unjustified assault” on its reporter.

“She was doing her job as a VOA journalist, covering events important to our Turkish audience. VOA appeals to all pertinent officials to demand fair treatment for journalists when doing their jobs,” Serchak wrote in an email to VOA.

Reporters Without Borders said Turkey has “stepped up its attacks on journalists” as the 2023 election, scheduled for May, approaches. The country ranks 149th out of 180 countries, where 1 has the best environment for media, on RSF’s Press Freedom Index.

Authorities in 2022 blocked access to the VOA Turkish website, along with Germany’s Deutsche Welle Turkish service, after the international public broadcasters declined to apply for licenses from the Radio and Television Supreme Council, known as RTUK.

The regulator said the new directive on licenses was “part of technical measures,” but media advocates had raised concerns that the regulation gives RTUK authority to control online content.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, speaking on background, said Wednesday that the U.S. condemns “threats, harassment and violence targeting journalists and media workers.”

“Voice of America reporting has long been a vital source of objective news and information,” the spokesperson said. “The United States remains concerned by widespread restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey.”