ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused the country’s media of trying to undermine a nascent Kurdish peace process and called on journalists to censor themselves if they love their nation, prompting a rare rebuke from a normally compliant press.
In a heated public speech over the weekend, Erdogan condemned an article in the daily Milliyet newspaper, which published a transcript of a meeting last month between militant chief Abdullah Ocalan and Kurdish politicians.
Ocalan, head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), has been holding peace talks with Turkey since October on his island prison and met a delegation of Kurdish politicians late last month to discuss the negotiations.
The transcript, confirmed by a party to the talks, revealed the apparent frustrations of Ocalan - in captivity since 1999 - with the frail peace process and a warning to the government against any attempt to dictate terms.
“If you are going to conduct this kind of journalism, then we don’t need your journalism. We want a service to this nation. Whoever is working to sabotage this resolution process is against me, my friends and the government,” Erdogan said.
“If you have even an iota of love for this country, for this nation ... you cannot write this type of article,” he said.
It was not the first time the often fiery Turkish leader has berated the press in a country which rights groups say has one of the worst records for media freedom. But more surprising was the bold and rare response that his remarks provoked.
“Newspapers and television stations are not corporations tied to the government. Journalists are also not civil servants or officials of the prime ministry,” Ahmet Abakay, head of the Progressive Journalists Association, wrote in a statement.
“In countries where there is a democracy, prime ministers cannot interfere in freedom of expression and the media and the people’s right to access news,” he said.
Yusuf Kanli, a prominent columnist for the Hurriyet daily, also did not mince his words.
“The high, tall, bold, bald and ever-yelling man is fuming as always,” Kanli wrote on Monday, referring to Erdogan. “It is not the business of a prime minister to yell in a bossy attitude and try to dictate what to report and not report.”
The United Nations, Western leaders and media watchdogs have long criticised Turkey’s poor record on media freedom, citing the high number of journalists in prison, currently more than in any other country in the world.
Turkish journalists complain of government pressure to self-censor and reporters have been openly fired or forced to resign by their employers because of their views, many from news outlets owned by conglomerates wary of rocking the boat.
Editing by Nick Tattersall and Tom Pfeiffer