Turkey changes press card regulation in second attempt to make cancellation easier

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made changes to a 2018 press card regulation, the execution of some articles of which was recently suspended by Turkey’s highest administrative court, in a second attempt to make card cancellations easier, Turkish media reported on Friday.

In early April the Council of State suspended the execution of several of the most controversial articles criticized by journalist associations for curbing freedom of the press in Turkey by making it easier for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to cancel press cards.

The court underlined in its decision that Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate, which drafted the regulation, cannot cancel press cards for “ambiguous and arbitrary” reasons such as “conduct against national security or the public order” and “actions that damage the professional dignity of journalism.”

However, a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette on Friday showed that the government’s recent changes to the regulation painted a similar picture to the articles suspended by the Plenary Session of the Administrative Law Chamber (İDDK), the court’s highest body, less than two months ago.

According to the decree, the statement “to not be convicted of establishing an organization to commit crimes, being a member of or helping [such an organization]” is added to the 6th article, which determines criteria for journalists to obtain press cards.

Additions to the 25th article, which details situations leading to the cancellation of press cards, include statements such as “damaging the honor of the profession by exhibiting behaviors that cast a shadow on the dignity of journalism” and “creating content that would support violence and terror or disable the fight against all kinds of organized crime.”

Prof. Dr. Süleyman İrvan, head of Üsküdar University’s new media and journalism department, argued in a tweet that the Council of State would cancel these new changes to the press card regulation, too.

“Instead of the articles that were suspended … for being ‘ambiguous and arbitrary,’ they have added new ones quite similar to those but more detailed. The Council of State, which canceled those articles first time, will cancel them again, and so it will go,” İrvan said.

Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, on the other hand, argued that the new additions to the regulation would “prevent people who disseminate propaganda promoting terrorism and violence from hiding behind their press cards.”

Turkey’s Press Cards Commission, which is composed of journalists from a number of state-run and pro-government media outlets and newspapers, was subordinated to the presidency from the prime ministry as part of Turkey’s transition to an executive presidential system in 2018.

Since then, large numbers of journalists critical of Erdoğan and his AKP government have had their press cards revoked or their applications for renewal denied.

It is difficult for journalists to do their jobs without press cards in Turkey as they need them for accreditation to attend certain events, follow trials and enter the Turkish Parliament.

The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, following which dozens of journalists were jailed and more than 200 media outlets were closed down on the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

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