A crackdown by the increasingly hardline Turkish government against opposition media outlets has left many in the country worried over press freedoms. This past weekend, the headquarters of the Feza Media Group, which publishes Turkey’s largest circulation daily Zaman, was stormed by police and placed under state control. Hundreds of protestors, who had arrived at the paper’s HQ, were dispersed by riot police using tear gas and water cannons. The events stem from the increasingly bitter conflict between one time allies, the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party as part of an anti-corruption probe.
A new editorial board has now been imposed on Zaman, which had been fiercely critical of Erdogan. Zaman’s former editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici called the moves against Zaman a “black day for democracy” in Turkey. A wave of international condemnation also followed, including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who labelled it, “the latest in a string of unacceptable and undue restrictions of media freedom in Turkey.”
In October, Turkish authorities also cracked down on the Ipek media group, seizing its media operations, which include TV channels KanalTurk and Bugun TV channels, in protest at what has been perceived as its pro-Gulen sympathies. Subsequently, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief, respectively, of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet were arrested and held before finally being released at the end of February following a constitutional court order.
The backdrop of the media crackdown as Turkey finds itself facing numerous domestic and foreign policy challenges. It has essentially become a major player in the war in Syria, vehemently opposed to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, finding itself at the centre of a political storm with former ally Russia following the downing of a Syrian jet on its border as well as engaged in a fierce battle with Kurdish militants both inside and outside the country. Turkey has also been accused by the Syrian government and Russia of aiding Islamist forces, including Isis, in Syria and Turkey, a charge strongly refuted by the Turkish government.
Conversely, Turkey continues to grow as a box office market for both local and Western films and has a booming TV market that is increasingly looking to create formats and series’ for regional and international consumption.