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IPI Urges Turkey to Reject Proposed Changes to Constitutional Media Freedom Protections

Vienna, 28 July, 2012 - The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), today urged a commission responsible for writing a new Constitution for Turkey to reject proposed amendments that would severely weaken current language protecting media freedom.

Bianet reported that Turkey’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission is set to vote Wednesday on a proposal advanced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government that would, among other effects, carve out numerous exceptions to an existing article on “The Freedom of Press and Publication.”

The news website, citing an article from the daily newspaper Milliyet, said the proposed changes would include a provision that “The freedom of press can be restricted to protect national security, public order, public morals, others’ rights, private and family life; to avert crimes; to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; to prevent warmongering and the propogation [sic] of every sort of discrimination, hostility or rancor and hatred.”

IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Basın Enstitüsü Derneği, sharply criticised the proposal, saying the change would represent a step backward for press freedom in the country. “If the new Constitution is going to be issued with this anti-democratic mentality which may create worse conditions than the present Constitution, it is better that [the new Constitution] is not issued,” the group saidin a statement posted on its website.

According to Bianet, other changes proposed by the AKP-led government would include clauses mandating that “No publications intended to violate the presumption of innocence can be issued” and requiring the state to take “measures to protect minors from publications that involve child abuse, sexuality and violence.”

The proposed changes, which would place all provisions related to the press in a single article of the new Constitution, would also reportedly eliminate current language preventing seizures, confiscations and operations bans against printing houses that were lawfully established as press institutions. Bianet said that the proposal, if adopted, would give authorities power to seize all instruments of the press, including printing presses, as “tools of crime”.

The proposed changes would also remove a current guarantee that those who wish to establish a printing house do not need to seek permission or provide financial assurances in order to do so.

Atilla Kart, a member of the commission from the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), labelled the proposed changes “unacceptable”, Bianet reported.

IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi echoed that assessment. “Turkey has rightfully received widespread international criticism over the course of the past year as a result of a disturbing deterioration of media freedom. With nearly 100 journalists currently in prison – apparently the most in any country on Earth – on what look to be spurious terrorism charges, the country needs to take strong steps to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of the press and to democratic principles. These proposals, if adopted, would do exactly the opposite.”

Turkey’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission is working on a new Constitution to replace one adopted by a military government in 1982 following a coup two years earlier.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.