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Fine on Dogan Media Group could be an attempt to silence them, says IPI

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 20 February 2009 IPI press release:

IPI Concerned about Tax Fine Against Turkish Media Group

VIENNA, 20 February 2009 - Turkey's decision to impose a $490 million tax fine on the country's largest media company raises concerns about possible efforts to silence the Dogan Media Group, a frequent target of attack by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the International Press Institute and the South East Europe Media Organisation said today.

Turkish tax authorities imposed the massive fine on 17 February, for what was described as an overdue payment in connection with sales of some of Dogan's assets. The company denies any wrongdoing and plans to challenge the fine.

"Prime Minister Erdogan has escalated his verbal attacks on Dogan's newspapers for their reporting," IPI Director David Dadge said. "He has called for his supporters to boycott Dogan and other newspapers, but this has not silenced them. The timing and unprecedented size of this tax fine raise serious concerns that the authorities are changing their approach from rhetoric to using the state apparatus to harass the media."

IPI's National Committee in Turkey said in a statement today that "this shows that the aim is not to punish the tax irregularity, but to liquidate the largest media group in the country."

In addition, Deniz Baykal, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, said the fine "represents a crisis of the democratic regime itself," while Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the opposition Democratic Society Party, called it "an example of the magnitude of government pressure on the media," reports the Hurriyet newspaper.

The imposition of the fine comes shortly after Erdogan reiterated previous calls to boycott the media group's newspapers.

At two separate political rallies in February, Erdogan criticised the media and called on the crowd not to read those newspapers that carry "incorrect news". At a 2 February metro station opening in Istanbul, the crowd turned on the media after Erdogan chastised journalists for "standing by others rather than standing by the prime minister of the Turkish Republic."

In 2008, the prime minister clashed with Dogan's media over reports about corruption allegations involving Erdogan's political allies.

The International Press Institute is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

For more information on the 2 February 2009 statements made by Erdogan, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100525/

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