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Turkey confiscates DW interview footage

September 7, 2016

Turkish authorities have confiscated footage of an interview with Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic filmed for DW's "Conflict Zone" talk show. The action has prompted an outcry over press freedom.

Akif Cagatay Kilic
Image: DW/M. Martin

The interview at the center of the controversy took place with DW host Michel Friedman in Ankara on Monday evening. He had asked Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic about July's coup attempt, as well as the mass layoffs and arrests that took place in its aftermath.

Friedman also asked about the media situation in Turkey and the position of women in society before asking Kilic to elaborate on several controversial statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on these subjects.

Immediately following the interview, Kilic excused himself from the room. No sooner had the minister left, his press officer announced that DW would not be allowed to broadcast the interview.

When Friedman and his editorial colleague protested, the video material was confiscated by employees of the ministry.

Ministry denies confiscation

In a press statement, Turkey's Youth and Sports Ministry claimed that the interview was not authorized because of "loss of impartiality" by Friedman, who had overstepped his boundaries and made accusations.

The statement said the rules for authorizing an interview were clearly defined, especially in Germany, and that the youth and sports minister was exercising his right to prohibit the video.

The ministry also denied confiscating the material. "The technical team, which created the material, gave us the unauthorized recordings. The public declarations claiming the 'use of force' and 'confiscation' (of the material) do not correspond to the truth in any way," the statement said.

Germany criticizes stance

Speaking to journalists earlier on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that if the video had been forcibly taken, then "it did not correspond to our idea of press freedom. "

Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer also expressed hope that the incident would not lead to "more upheavals" in German-Turkish relations. He said Germany's ambassador to Ankara, Martin Erdmann, had met the chief of Kilic's office on Wednesday. According to Erdmann, the office did not deny that the video had reached "the domain of the ministry," but refused to admit that the video was confiscated.

Schäfer said his ministry would support press freedom in Turkey, "but at the same time, considering all the difficulties and problems and open questions we have with Turkey, we wish that this does not become another case that we may have to intensively discuss in the next days."

Press freedom

In a statement made to DW's Turkish-language department on Tuesday, Ubeydullah Yener, the minister's press officer, said there was "no authorization for the interview."

He added that Friedman had asked different questions than those agreed to ahead of the interview.

"Mr. Friedman himself knows exactly why this happened," Yener said. "Some statements were outright allegations. In such a situation, there was no authorization granted."

Friedman denied claims that the questions had been agreed upon beforehand.

"Journalists aren't there to ask the questions that politicians like," Friedman said, adding that in his 20-year journalistic career he had never experienced such a course of action - "even in countries where dictatorships still play a role."

"This is proof that freedom of the press in Turkey is very restricted," Friedman said. "The incident is very disturbing. If the foreign media is already been treated in this manner, one could well imagine how difficult it is right now for Turkish journalists."

News of the confiscated video footage on Tuesday also prompted an outcry on social media The German Journalists Union (DJV) called for an immediate release of the video.

"That is the most severe offense against press freedom, like we only know from dictatorships," criticized DJV Chairman Frank Überall.

Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Turkey's opposition "Cumhuriyet" newspaper, wrote: "Welcome to Turkey, folks!"

Co-chairman of the German Greens Cem Özdemir tweeted: "Is the government going to allow the public service broadcaster to be bullied in Turkey?"

A Turkish official said the ministry was well within its rights "under media ethics" to stop the interview from being aired.

"The presenter was not there to obtain answers, but to give a message with their own opinions," the official said. "We would not allow the publication of disrespectful expressions that go beyond its purpose."

DW protests confiscation

Following the incident, DW appealed to the Youth and Sports Ministry, as well as to Turkey's directorate-general for press and information. The German public broadcaster also repeated its demand for the release of the video material.

DW Director General Peter Limbourg rebuked the behavior of the Turkish authorities.

"This incident is proof of a blatant violation of press freedom in Turkey," Limbourg said in a statement on Tuesday.

"What we are experiencing constitutes an act of the Turkish regime's coercion. It no longer follows the rule of law and has nothing to do with democracy. It cannot be that a minister willingly responds to an interview and then tries to block the transmission in such a manner just because he did not like the questions posed."

"We are requesting the Turkish authorities to return the video material straightaway, and we will consider our legal options," Limbourg added.

A deadline set for Tuesday at midday local time (1000 UTC) came and went without a response from Turkish authorities. Despite several repeated requests for the release of the video footage, Turkey's decision remained unchanged.

mg, ksb/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)