BELGRADE – The editorial policy of Turkey’s best-selling Zaman newspaper, formerly critical of the government, has apparently gone through a change. The Sunday edition, under a newly appointed administration, now appears to support the official line.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be seen on the new Zaman daily’s front page, smiling in an article announcing a presidential reception on upcoming Women’s Day (March 8). A costly governmental project of a new bridge to be built across Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait was also headlined, as well as reports on the funerals of “martyrs” killed in clashes with the Kurds.
More articles supporting the government could be found in the Sunday edition of the paper that has an estimated circulation of 650,000, AFP reported. Containing just 12 pages, the paper is a slimmer version of its previous self, and the content is sparse, according to Reuters.
Protests that erupted following what was widely seen as the seizure of Zaman’s headquarters in Istanbul by the government were glossed over in the new edition, Reuters reported. On Saturday, police used tear gas, water cannon and fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds-strong crowds of Zaman readers.
Police also raided Zaman’s building, forcefully imposing a Turkish court order to put the media under administration. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici was fired by the new trustees.
“The Sunday edition was not produced by Zaman’s staff,” one of the newspaper’s journalists told AFP, adding, “internet has been cut off, we are unable to use our system.”
“It’s impossible to continue to work at Zaman daily because the trustees who were assigned by the government will fire us a couple of days later. All of us will be fired from the newspaper. But if they don’t, of course we will resign, because it’s impossible to work with the government, we will not write what they want,” Emre Soncan, a journalist from Today’s Zaman newspaper, an English version of Zaman daily, told RT on Saturday.
Zaman’s website has been offline, while Today’s Zaman online services have not been updated since Saturday. Government affiliates have also taken control of and blocked access to the outlet’s Cihan news agency, Today’s Zaman earlier reported.
The Zaman newspaper’s former team has launched a new paper of their own, “Yarina Bakis” (“Look to Tomorrow”), local media reported, saying that journalists had decided to remain in line with their previous editorial policy. The new paper reported on the weekend protests in Istanbul.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denied any links between the government takeover of the paper and changes in its editorial policy, saying the seizure had nothing to do with the paper’s criticism of the authorities.
“There are many media outlets in Turkey that criticize our government. None of them are subjected to legal procedures,” Davutoglu told A Haber television on Sunday, as quoted by AFP. “What’s in question here is not merely press activity, but rather an operation targeting a legitimate government that came to power with popular support,” he added, referring to Zaman’s affiliation with now US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a fierce critic of President Erdogan, who was put on a “most-wanted terrorist list” by Ankara.