New commission denies press cards to select journalists on spurious grounds

The commission used vague expressions such as “denied on consideration” or “other” as reasons for the denial of the press cards, while other journalists were said to have been denied the card due to missing documents in their applications. However, it is not possible for a journalist to apply for a press card without first submitting all the necessary documentation.

Journalists who called the Prime Ministry’s Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM) to learn the “other” reasons for being denied a press card were told by BYEGM officials that the members of the Press Card Commission know the details.

The Press Card Commission underwent significant changes earlier this year after a regulation was introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

According to the new regulation, published in the Official Gazette on Aug. 25, the deputy prime minister, to whom the BYEGM is subordinated, will issue permanent press cards. Previously, the authority to issue the cards had resided with the old Press Card Commission in place until recently.

In addition, while increasing the number of members in the Press Card Commission under the BYEGM from 13 to 15, the new regulation also decreased the number of members from press unions from eight to five, which had remained unchanged for 50 years, making the commission a government subordinate.

The new commission also blocked a number of journalists who are critical of the government from acquiring permanent press cards. Some of the 94 veteran journalists — many of whom work for the Zaman, Samanyolu, Cihan, Taraf and Bugun media outlets — were denied permanent press cards, regardless of their eligibility. Although the previous commission made a decision in December 2014 to issue permanent press cards to these journalists, who include Zaman Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici, the paper’s former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, the Hurriyet news editor-in-chief, Radikal daily columnist Murat Yetkin, journalist Cuneyt Ozdemir and Aksiyon Editor-in-Chief Bulent Korucu, permanent press cards have not been given to them over the past 11 months.

Although the press card commission used to meet four times a year, the new commission has convened only once in the past 11 months.

Moving away from existing protocol, the commission did not publicly announce the list of journalists who had been given or denied press cards. Instead, every journalist who had applied for a press card was required to check the result of their application by using their TC identification number on the BYEGM website. Since the list has not been revealed publicly, the exact number of journalists who were denied a press card or a permanent press card is not known.

This move has been interpreted as an effort to hide the commission’s controversial decisions from public attention.

Journalists with yellow press cards, which are given after working for a certain period as a journalist for an established media institution, can attend any event organized by the government and use public transportation for free.

Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) President Ugur Guc, who has been given a permanent press card by the new commission, said it is not right to re-examine applications for permanent press cards that were already issued to some journalists.

He said this re-examination is not right, just as the structure of the refashioned commission isn’t right.

Journalist Bilici’s lawyer, whose client was denied a permanent press card, said they would be taking legal action against the commission’s decision, which they said “lacks any legal grounds and is arbitrary.”

In October, two journalist unions that no longer have members on the Press Card Commission, the Turkish Journalists Federation (TGF) and the İzmir Journalists Association (İGC), demanded the annulment of the regulation that changed the structure of the commission by the Council of State, claiming it violates the Constitution.

The TGF and the İGC submitted a petition to the Council of State in which they claim that the government did not consult press unions before changing the regulation related to press cards on Aug. 25. “The regulation [on press cards] was amended without legal justification and without consulting with the Turkish union that has the highest number of members with yellow press cards; it was changed based on political considerations,” the unions said in the petition.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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