The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today welcomed a ruling by Turkey’s Constitutional Court blocking closer government control over the state-owned Anadolu news agency (AA). The ruling was published on February 24, 2021.
AA is a state-run news agency established in 1920 with the purpose of conveying accurate and contemporary news and information collected from its local and international web of news correspondents and disseminated to its press and broadcast subscribers. In 1925, it was separated from the state structure and transformed into a private legal entity to ensure the autonomy and impartiality of the news agency, which are also guaranteed by Article 133 of the constitution. Although the State Treasury is the largest shareholder, its shares have never exceeded 50 percent to preserve the agency’s autonomy. However, the agency’s main source of revenue is an allowance from the government, which is currently taken from the budget of the presidential office. This has had a negative influence on AA’s autonomy.
A 2018 decree had authorized the presidential office to conclude a maximum five-year contract with AA which grants the presidential office power to regulate the appointment of executives and as well as to supervise the budget, activities, organization and human resources management of the news agency.
These changes further undermined the autonomy of AA, which was already under great political pressure. Indeed, under the AKP government, the AA is considered to have largely lost any impartiality. The most visible example of this lack of impartiality occurred during the local elections in 2019 when AA, as the official election results provider, stopped updating the local election results when the opposition candidate started catching up to the ruling party candidate.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling came after Turkey’s largest opposition political party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), challenged a number of provisions in Presidential decree No. 14, which established the Communications Directorate (Directorate) under the presidential office in 2018. This decree gave a wide range of powers to the Directorate to oversee the promotion of state activities, including supervising AA.
The Constitutional Court found that the Directorate’s supervisory power over the activities, organization and human resources management of the agency had the possibility to affect the impartiality of the news published and therefore did not comply with the principle of autonomy as foreseen in the Turkish constitution. As for the five-year contract clause, the Court found that determining the appointment of the Agency’s managers in such a way would render the autonomy of the Agency meaningless. In the end, the Court declared these provisions in the rule unconstitutional and overturned them.
In terms of the budget supervision, however, the Constitutional Court held that this supervision of the Agency by the Directorate did not present an aspect that would adversely affect the Agency’s autonomy and impartiality, as such supervision aims to ensure the public interest. The Court, therefore, decided that this provision does not run counter to the constitution and rejected the annulment request.
“This is a positive development for press freedoms in Turkey as a step toward regaining the impartiality of the state-run Anadolu Agency”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. “Nevertheless, while the ruling wards off a further threat to AA and underscores the importance of Turkey’s Constitutional Court in protecting fundamental rights, it doesn’t change the fact that the agency was already highly instrumentalized and turned into a propaganda outlet by the government. We urge authorities to restore the AA’s economic and editorial independence as a public news agency in order to provide impartial and accurate news to the public.”