The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) said today that they were deeply troubled by the firing of IPI Turkish National Committee President Kadri Gürsel from his position as a columnist at Milliyet newspaper over a tweet critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Gürsel was informed yesterday by the paper’s human resources department that Milliyet was unilaterally terminating its contract with him. “We parted ways with Mr. Ahmet Kadri Gürsel for his stance which damaged our co-working environment,” Milliyet said in a statement released earlier today confirming the move. The statement also accused Gürsel of violating journalistic ethics and displaying a “subversive attitude”, according to reports.
The tweet in question suggested that Turkish policy toward the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) was partly responsible for Monday’s bombing of a cultural centre in Suruç, Turkey that left over 30 people dead. The alleged bomber is reported to have ties to ISIS.
“It is shameful that foreign leaders call and console the person who is the number one cause of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror in Turkey,” Gürsel tweeted on Tuesday, according to a translation published in the Turkish English-language press. The “person” is understood to refer to Erdoğan.
“I am not surprised,” Gürsel said today of his firing.
IPI’s recent special report on press freedom in Turkey, “Democracy at Risk”, highlighted with particular concern the willingness of government officials, especially Erdoğan, to directly pressure media outlets, as is suspected to have occurred in Gürsel’s case. “Recent years have seen not only raids on media houses, but telephone calls to media owners and editors directing how issues are to be covered or calling for the firing of critical voices,” the report noted.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said IPI was dismayed by the treatment of Gürsel, who was also subject to extensive abuse on social media.
“It is extremely disheartening to see one of Turkey’s most important voices for the basic human right of freedom of expression – not to mention one of its most well-respected journalists – dismissed from his job for expressing his opinion about a matter of utmost public interest. Kadri Gürsel’s firing is an indication of how narrow the space for independent journalism in Turkey has become and is yet another sign that the Turkish government appears unable to view criticism as anything but a threat that must be immediately silenced. This is a sad day for pluralism and the free flow of information in Turkey.”
IPI Executive Board Member Ferai Tinç, a former columnist for Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper, added: “Press freedom violations are no longer an exception in Turkey. During the last five years, most of the outspoken and reliable journalists from mainstream media have lost their jobs because they annoyed the AKP government with what they wrote in their articles, what they said in TV programmes or what they tweeted. This occurs after a phone call from the president’s office to the media owners. The firing of Kadri Gürsel is just the latest example, but his dismissal is a serious loss for the struggle for democracy in Turkey.”
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic expressed “shock” over the incident.
“Kadri is one of the most highly respected columnists and media professionals in Turkey and is well-known for his critical views. Turkey needs journalists like Kadri. He was fired for criticising President Erdoğan on Twitter, which amounts to a clear attack on freedom of expression.”
Gürsel had worked for Milliyet since 1998 and, as the president of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, has been a leading advocate for press freedom in a country where the list of threats to independent journalism has become long. IPI’s Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis earlier this year cited economic pressure on media outlets, a toxic political climate, manipulation of the legal framework, pressure on speech online and ongoing impunity for attacks on journalists as factors that had led to a “pervasive climate of self-censorship” and to “serious deficiencies in [Turkey’s] democracy.”
IPI most recently visited Turkey on an official press-freedom mission in October 2014. On that occasion, President Erdoğan told a joint IPI-Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) delegation that he supported the “freedom and liberty of the media to criticise on the condition that it’s accurate, to the point and responsible” but denounced “insults” levelled against him by hostile media outlets and what he said was manipulated news coverage.
“Democracy at Risk”, IPI’s March 2015 special report on Turkey, can be downloaded here.