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German government backs DW in Turkey dispute

Nine Werkhäuser / wgSeptember 7, 2016

German diplomats have spoken out after Turkey's Youth and Sports Ministry confiscated a DW interview. Media and Culture Commissioner Monika Grütters has also made a strong public statement.

DW Conflict Zone
Image: DW/M. Martin

On Wednesday, German Media and Culture Commissioner Monika Grütters received resounding applause in the Bundestag for criticizing the Turkish Youth and Sports Ministry's confiscation of Deutsche Welle footage. "The seizure of material following a finished television interview with a minister, such as the case in Turkey yesterday, is in no way our concept of press freedom," she said during the Bundestag's debate over the federal budget. "This is highly alarming."

The incident occurred after DW host Michel Friedman taped an interview with Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic for the "Conflict Zone" talk show. Their exchange touched on July's coup attempt and the ensuing consequences. At the end, Kilic's spokesperson instructed DW not to air the interview. When Friedman protested, the video was confiscated by ministry staff.

After DW informed Germany's Foreign Office of what transpired, German ambassador to Turkey Martin Erdmann spoke with officials from the Youth and Sports Ministry. He emphasized that press freedom is "highly valued" in Germany, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer said. It was an "intensive, but good and constructive conversation," Schäfer said, in which both sides expressed their hope that the incident "would not lead to further deterioration of German-Turkish relations," which have already been strained following the Bundestag's resolution to recognize the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians as genocide earlier this summer, as well as the political developments in Ankara since the failed coup.

Turkish officials did not deny that the footage was taken, Schäfer said. However, they did not describe the incident as a confiscation. Germany's federal government has supported DW's demand to have the video material returned - and without making a "deal," he said: "Press freedom is for us absolutely nonnegotiable."

Monika Grütters
Pictured with DW director general Peter Limbourg, Grütters has spoken out for the broadcasterImage: DW/A. Wisskirchen

'Unspeakable and untenable'

Gunther Krichbaum, a Bundestag deputy and member of the Christian Democrats (CDU), described the "unparalleled incident" as "unspeakable and untenable," adding that "it is video and audio material for Deutsche Welle to publish." He said the Turkish government must know that without press freedom there is no freedom of expression - without which there is no democracy. "Democracy is a core value of the European Union, Krichbaum said. "If you're preparing to perhaps one day be a member of the EU, you must be prepared to share this value."

"This is another blow to press freedom in Turkey," said Bundestag Deputy Martin Dörmann, of the Social Democrats (SPD). He demanded that Turkey quickly release the material. "Deutsche Welle is clearly discomforting to authoritarian regimes, because it stands for independent journalism," Dörmann said.

Greens co-chair Cem Özdemir said the incident showed the Turkish government's understanding of democracy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Clearly, interviews with international media are handled exactly the same as they are with the restricted media in Turkey," he told DW, "which submit softball questions in advance for approval."

Özdemir noted the difficult situation faced by journalists in Turkey, who often fear that they could be assaulted or detained. "I'd like to see more support - including from the chancellor and Mr. Gabriel," he said, referring to the CDU's Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the SPD.