In a letter addressed to Ridvan Duran, the general director of BIK, the authority in Turkey responsible for the distribution of state advertising, 24 press freedom and freedom of expression groups from Europe and Turkey today called for the immediate end to the public advertising ban that has been imposed on the independent newspaper Evrensel since September 2019.
Should the ban last for a full six months, until March 28, Evrensel faces being removed from the system for at least three years, which would be catastrophic for its financial stability.
Read the joint letter below.
The ban was imposed in September when BIK judged Evrensel’s distribution system to have fallen foul of rules against bulk purchasing. Evrensel has since made the technical changes requested of them, but the ban remains in place.
Evrensel has not been the only target for BIK’s actions. The independent newspaper BirGün was banned for almost six months for failing to properly credit contributors and photographers. The daily Cumhuriyet received two limited bans, one of which was for its reporting on Turkey’s military action in Syria and Evrensel has also faced additional further limited bans for alleged “violations of press ethics”.
The sudden increase in disciplinary action by BIK against Turkey’s independent newspapers coincides with the appointment of Ridvan Duran at the end of August.
In a meeting with the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) in February, Duran insisted that BIK’s actions had nothing to do with the newspapers’ editorial lines but were for clear technical or ethical breaches.
However, since BIK, which has an annual budget of 450 million Turkish lira (about 65 million euros), does not issue annual reports on how the money is distributed to the newspaper industry, nor on the disciplinary measures taken, it is impossible to verify the claim that BIK treats all newspapers equally.
“We are deeply concerned that the public advertising funds are being instrumentalized by the authorities in their pursuit of control over the few remaining independent news outlets”, said Oliver Money Kyrle, IPI Head of Europe Advocacy. “BIK must immediately lift this ban and introduce full transparency so they are accountable to the public tax payer whose money they spend.”
General Director, Basın İlan Kurumu (BIK)
Merkez Efendi Mah. Mevlana Cad. No: 140/A
Toya Plaza Kat: 5 Zeytinburnu / İSTANBUL
March 16, 2020
Dear Mr. Duran,
On behalf of the 24 international and local press freedom organisations and signatories to this letter, we are writing to ask that Basın İlan Kurumu (BIK) swiftly lift the advertising ban currently imposed on the newspaper Evrensel.
Evrensel has been under an advertising ban since September 2019, and if the ban remains in place for a full six months, until March 28, 2020, Evrensel faces being removed from the public advertising system for at least three years.
Such a decision would have a devastating impact on the finances of the newspaper, threatening its closure and weakening the diversity and pluralism of Turkey’s newspaper market.
In February you met with representatives of the International Press Institute (IPI), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Journalists Syndicate of Turkey (TGS), Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and assured them that the ban would be lifted as soon as Evrensel made the necessary changes to their distribution system so as not to fall foul of the bulk buying rules.
Evrensel have since made the changes requested of them, but have three times had their appeals refused after new audits conducted by BIK.
BIK was given a crucial democratic role when it was established in 1961 to provide support to the country’s newspaper sector through the even distribution of public advertising funds. The system has become essential to the survival of many newspapers as the economic pressures on the print industry have grown over the past decade.
BIK’s role is therefore vital to ensure the health, diversity and plurality of Turkey’s newspaper sector. Central to that is, of course, its policy to provide support regardless of a newspaper’s editorial line. Evrensel is known for its independent reporting and has, in recent years, been targeted for judicial harassment as a consequence.
In addition to the indefinite ban, since September BIK has also issued three other limited bans on Evrensel for alleged ‘press ethics violations’. Further penalties would strongly suggest that BIK is being used to punish Evrensel for its independent reporting.
We urge you, therefore, to make good on your promise and to ensure the prompt lifting of the ban on Evrensel prior to the end of the six-month deadline.
We also take this opportunity to urge BIK to start publishing annual reports on the distribution of its funds that we understand amount to 450 million Turkish Lira of public funds and on the different disciplinary measures taken against newspapers. Providing transparency on BIK’s use of public funds would enable the public to verify that its money is used correctly and is consistent with the principles of supporting a pluralistic and democratic media environment.
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Civic Space Studies Association – Turkey / Sivil Alan Araştırmaları Derneği
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Journalists Union of Turkey
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)