New media law heavily criticised
The Turkish parliament approved a controversial bill Wednesday that critics charge will further curtail press freedoms, strengthen media monopolies and weaken the country’s bid to join the European Union.
Under the new law, Turkey’s media barons will no longer be barred from bidding for government contracts. This, critics charge, will make newspaper, radio and television owners more vulnerable to government pressure as they seek to snap up lucrative projects or acquire stakes in state-owned companies earmarked for privatization.
The head of the Turkish government broadcasting watchdog agency, who is among the most vocal critics of the bill, termed it “a dark stain on Turkish democracy.”
Yilmaz Karakoyunlu, the minister in charge of broadcasting, said the bill would be “improved” after its passage. But opposition lawmakers said such a move was unlikely amid mounting speculation that the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit might fall, forcing early parliamentary elections. What the new law fails to change are existing bans on certain Kurdish-language broadcasts it considers separatist. Owners of numerous radio and television channels in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeastern provinces have been frequently fined and their broadcasts banned for airing Kurdish music.
The European Union is demanding that Turkey lift such bans as one of the conditions for beginning membership negotiations with the Ankara government. An EU spokesman said the bill was “a step back” for democratic reforms in Turkey. Turkey’s president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, vetoed the bill when it was first approved by the parliament last year. But under the constitution, he is powerless to block it a second time and can only appeal for its annulment by the courts.