In what was a first in the history of Turkey’s Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), members of the council affiliated to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) decided to revoke the council membership of journalist Faruk Bildirici, who had been chose by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). This was no isolated incident.
Seasoned journalist Faruk Bildirici had been chosen as a member of RTÜK three and a half months ago. From day one, he had stared to share with the public the council’s legal wrongdoings. Yet when he Bildirici exposed the RTÜK president Elbubekir Şahin for being on the board of two other institutions – which is contrary to the laws of RTÜK – he seemingly pushed the limits of the council management too far.
Bildirici had called for the resignation of the RTÜK president in a complaint petition in which he disclosed his membership on the boards of TÜRKSTAT and the Press Listings Institution. Şahin did not resign. And instead, RTÜK council members from the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) cancelled Bildirici’s own membership.
But what kind of an institution is RTÜK? Why are its members chosen from political parties elected to Turkey’s General Assembly.
Back in 2001, the Grand National Assembly (TBMM) was undergoing one of its worst periods. Amendments that were proposed to the TBMM bylaws that would weaken the opposition and make it easier to pass laws caused much uproar, included physical fights. Fevzi Şıhanlıoğlu, an MP from the True Path Party (DYP) died during a fist fight inside General Assembly.
A coalition between the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the MHP and the Motherland Party (ANAP) was in power. Mainstream media was relatively silent as most media bosses collaborated with partners of the coalition.
A year later, five parties had entered the parliament in the April 1999 elections. As the Virtue Party (FP) was closed down in 2011, independent MPs founded the Felicity (SP) and AK parties while former DSP started the Social-Democrat Party (TDP), bringing the number of parties in parliament up to 7.
The RTÜK law was passed at at time when discussion in parliament were extremely tense, brawls could erupt at any moment.
The RTÜK law was passed in the parliament against all objections, but was vetoed by then President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in June 2001, who cited 13 pages of reasons. Sezer’s primary justification for the veto was “that the law would bring; heavy and arbitrary fines on the press, media bosses entering state tenders, monopolization, blocking local medias, obstructing the freedom of the press and of publication and high council members being chosen by TBMM.”
Sezer wrote, “If Radio and Television High Council members are chosen from political party candidates by the TBMM General Assembly, it will not be in accordance with High Council’s autonomy and neutrality, necessities of service and therefore it will not be in accordance with public interest.”
The RTÜK law was passed once again in May 2002. Deputy Prime Minister and ANAP leader Mesut Yılmaz, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli and DSP MP Hüsamettin Özkan were on constant watch at the Assembly at the time. Just before that, all media outlets belonging to Doğan Group, from Milliyet to Hürriyet and Radikal, published articles with such titles as ” President Sezer’s luxury villa”.
Indeed, media bosses were pushing for the law to pass. The most obvious reason was the allocation of frequencies though there was much more.
President Sezer and a group of MPs took the RTÜK law to Constitutional Court (AYM).
Sezer again emphasized the problems that would arise from the monopolization of the media and letting bosses enter public tenders. But these statements never made their way to mainstream media. One of these statements was:
“It is necessary, for the sustainability of independent and neutral press, to take measures to protect plurality in media. One must not forget that, media, which is supposed to be a public servant, becoming a monopoly and erosion of its responsibilities, gaining a commercial status which would serve individual interests, media-politics becoming closer, media and state entering into commercial relations, all of this without any doubt will create a basis for corruption in democracy and contradict the reason why press exists in the first place.“
Prior to Bildirici’s lay-off, the council quota for members of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) had already been targeted and the party almost lost a seat. If HDP was able to remain, they have now succeeded in removing Bildirici.
CHP Chairman Kılıçdaroğlu announced the party would will ‘keep submitting Bildirici’s petition until this mistake is corrected’, stressing that they wouldn’t abandon this case.
With this example of usurpation, I hope to show the public why RTÜK should be autonomous.