Saturday, March 05, 2016

US Spox Kirby remarks on Turkey's press freedom

DPB #36
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson
(Turkey Q & As)

QUESTION:  Can you condemn the Turkish court decision to replace the entire management and editorial board of Feza Media Group?  One of its main publications, Zaman daily, has been sharply critical of the Erdogan government and they are now accused of helping terrorists.  Can you condemn that decision?
MR KIRBY:  We’ve seen the reports that an Istanbul court has placed Zaman newspaper in particular – I think that’s what you’re asking about – into trusteeship.  And we see this as the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish Government targeting media outlets and others critical of it.  In the wake of moves earlier this week by government-appointed trustees to shutter media outlets owned by the Koza Ipek Holding Company and the filing of insult charges against journalists representing other outlets, we call on the Turkish Government to ensure full respect for due process and equal treatment under the law.  Court-ordered supervision of a media company’s finances and operations should not prompt changes to the newsroom or editorial policy.  As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally – and we do count ourself as a friend of Turkey and we certainly are a NATO ally – we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in their own constitution, including freedom of speech and especially freedom of the press.  In a democratic society, as I’ve said many, many times, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced.
QUESTION:  Well --
QUESTION:  John, do they – when you complain to the Turks about the freedoms, do they answer back?  I mean, what are they saying?
MR KIRBY:  You’d have to talk to Turkish authorities about what --
QUESTION:  Well -- 
MR KIRBY:  But let me be clear:  I’m standing up here at a podium in a very public way telling you what we believe --
QUESTION:  Yes, I --
MR KIRBY:  -- about this particular court case and freedom of the press in general.  And I can assure you that we have the same conversations with Turkish leaders privately as well.  And as for how they’re reacting, I mean, I think you’d have to talk to them, but certainly actions in this case speak louder than words, right?
QUESTION:  I know.  I know.
MR KIRBY:  So – but it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop talking about this.  And we talked – earlier in the press conference we were talking about Cuba and how – and I said we’re very open and honest about our concerns about human rights.  Well, we’re open and honest about it in places like Turkey too, which is a close friend and a NATO ally.  We’re not afraid to have these conversations, and they’re important ones to have. 
QUESTION:  A different topic?
QUESTION:  Same subject.
MR KIRBY:  Okay, let’s stay on this for a while and then --
QUESTION:  Thank you.
MR KIRBY:  -- we’ll move around.  Go ahead.
QUESTION:  Same subject – thank you.  John, you said that Turkish administration should not do that.  It has already been done.  Right now it is taken over, so it’s a past tense.  Do you think – this has been going on, as you talk about.  Do you think you can still say there is a healthy democracy in Turkey after this taking over, over and over again?  This is not one single issue.
MR KIRBY:  We don’t think – as I said earlier, we don’t think that these sorts of actions are in keeping with the healthy democratic values that are enshrined, again, in Turkey’s own constitution.  We don’t think that they’re in keeping with that.  And as I’ve said many times, Turkish democracy – Turkey matters to us and their democracy matters to us.  And that’s why we speak out about these kinds of issues.
QUESTION:  You get this message across in Ankara.  This is the most often question I received:  What else do you think the U.S. Government can do to convince that this road is not the road supposed to be taken by a democratic government?
MR KIRBY:  Well, I’m not going to speculate about actions the United States might or might not take on issues like this, these specific ones in Turkey, except to say that as we have done before, we will continue to press our concerns – again, privately and publicly – and to continue, as we must stand up for these universal democratic values of freedom of speech and freedom of the press and freedom of dissent, and because, as I said at the end of my last answer, we really do believe that a democracy is strengthened when there’s a free exchange of opinion and that the task of governing is actually improved when you are welcoming a wide set of views, even if they differ with the policies of this or that administration.  I mean, that’s a core democratic principle.  And again, it’s not just a core American democratic principle.  It’s a principle that is enshrined in Turkey’s own constitution.
We want to see Turkey succeed.  They are a friend and an ally.  We want to see that nation and the Turkish people succeed.  And we want to see them be able to enjoy the very fruits of the constitution that they’ve put in place for their own government.  And so that’s why this matters to us and that’s why we’re being honest about it.
QUESTION:  John --
QUESTION:  Final one is that many argue that because the U.S. needs Turkey for many reasons, including anti-Daesh operations and coalition, because of Incirlik base and other bases, U.S. simply does not want to take this human right issues to damage its own interest.  Do you see this --
MR KIRBY:  I completely disagree with that assessment.  I don’t know who’s making it, but again, I’d point you to our human rights report.  We’ve been honest about every country out there.  You can go on our website and read it.  We don’t pull any punches on it, and we don’t just put a report out on the web and then forget about it.  We talk about it.  We talk about it here in this room.  The Secretary talks about it with his counterparts all over the world, including his Turkish counterparts, and we’re not going to shy away from having those conversations.
But as I’ve also said many times – we just talked about this with Russia, so I’ll say it again with Turkey.  Turkey is a NATO ally, I mean, and we do have security commitments with them.  And yet, we’re still able to have conversations and discussions about things we don’t agree and things that we don’t see eye to eye on, and this is clearly one of them.  And that is while we’re – I don’t want to take – I don’t want to diminish anything about what I just said.  We’re very concerned about this particular case and the issue of press freedom in Turkey writ large.  That’s not going to change.  But it is a sign, we believe, of a mature relationship and bilateral relationship when you can have these kinds of frank discussions and have disagreements over issues like this and yet still find ways to cooperate and coordinate on other issues, such as the fight against Daesh in Syria and other security issues there in the region.
So look, we’re going to continue to work our way through all the issues with Turkey – and they’re not all, by the way, at odds.  I mean, we work together with Turkey on a wide range of things, and that’s going to continue.  And on the areas where we don’t see eye to eye, well, we’re going to keep working at that too, because that’s what you do when you’re a friend and a partner.
QUESTION:  Different topic?
QUESTION:  Same --
MR KIRBY:  Same topic, go ahead.
QUESTION:  Your position is clear that you’re concerned about freedom of press in Turkey.  Six months ago, Turkish Government took control of the one media group, two TV channels, two newspapers, and today Zaman.  And do you think that Turkish Government takes yours concern seriously?
MR KIRBY:  I think you would – you’d have to ask Turkish officials, as I said, their views.  What matters is we take these issues seriously and we’re not afraid to do so.  We’re not afraid to do so in a very public, transparent, open way, and we want to see Turkish authorities do the same thing in return with respect to press freedom.  So I can only speak for the United States Government and for Secretary Kerry, and I can tell you we take it very, very seriously.  If we didn’t, I wouldn’t be up here having this conversation – as, sadly, I’ve had to do on numerous occasions with respect to Turkey.
QUESTION:  John --
QUESTION:  Last one.
MR KIRBY:  Go ahead.
QUESTION:  Are you worried about --
MR KIRBY:  We’ll be fine, everybody.  Just relax, everybody.  Just – it’s okay.  We’re going to get there.
QUESTION:  Are you worried about Turkey losing its democratic character?
MR KIRBY:  Democratic character?
MR KIRBY:  Well, I think that’s the same question I just got.  I mean, we certainly don’t want to see that happen, because, as I said, Turkey’s democracy matters to us.  More critically, it matters to the Turkish people, and it certainly matters in the region.  And they’ve got these democratic principles enshrined in their constitution.  We want to see them live up to – we want to see Turkey succeed.  So that’s absolutely not what we want to see.
If you’re asking me to predict one way or the other, I wouldn’t do that.  But I can tell you what our hope and our expectation is: that Turkey will live up to, again, the democratic principles that they’ve enshrined in their very own constitution.
Okay, go ahead.

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