Members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have agreed to establish the OIC Media Forum (OMF) as a specialized umbrella institution in Turkey, where scores of journalists are jailed and dozens of media outlets were shut down.
The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented the individual cases of 165 journalists who are still serving time in prison or are jailed in pretrial detention. After a coup attempt in July 2016, almost 200 media outlets were closed and their assets seized by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to OIC documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, the secretariat services of the forum will be provided by the communications directorate of the Turkish presidency, a center controlling Turkish media and running Erdoğan’s Internet trolls. The executive director of the OMF will also be appointed by the Turkish president.
The “Statute of the OIC Media Forum” underlines in Article 1 that the forum “is an inter-governmental, non-commercial, non-partisan umbrella media organization, uniting international media organizations and government agencies from the member-States of the OIC, operating in the OIC region and media organization.” The headquarters of the OMF will be located in Istanbul, the statute states.
According to Article 9, the forum’s secretariat services shall be provided by the press and information department of the Turkish Prime Ministry. However, Turkey informed the OIC secretariat in a note verbale dated May 22, 2019 that the responsibilities of the prime ministry have been transferred to the communications department of the presidency. The OIC secretariat then circulated this information to its member states on May 27, 2019.
OIC circular dated May 27, 2019:OIC Media Forum_Note Verbale
Article 4 of the statute states that the OMF will “strengthen the media with the purpose of reaching the goals of the right to know, right to access to information and freedom of expression by respecting human dignity and human rights,” and that the forum will “promote equality of access to reliable public information worldwide and encourage the highest standards of journalism that emphasise accuracy, balance, fairness and accountability.”
According to Article 4, the forum will become a focal point ensuring the greater exchange of news, information and experiences among its members, analyze the current state of the member states’ media and its development, and facilitate capacity building for media professionals in OIC countries.
OIC member states decided to operationalize the OIC Media Forum at the 39th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), held in Djibouti on November 15-17, 2012. The statute governing the forum was then adopted by the 40th session of the CFM in Conakry in December 2013.
The statute was signed by Turkey on April 6, 2017 and will enter into force upon completion of legal and legislative formalities of the host country, Turkey. To this end, the OFM statute was submitted to parliament for ratification on February 20, 2020 by President Erdoğan.
President Erdoğan’s letter with the text of the statute attached that was submitted to the Parliament Speaker’s Office for approval:OIC Media Forum_letter
According to the text, the OMF will implement its duties by promoting communication among member states and media organizations and providing a framework for consultation and the exchange of views in accordance with the regulations to be adopted by its general assembly, by bringing together information ministers from OIC member states.
The OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. “Member States shall uphold and promote, at the national and international levels, good governance, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law,” Article 2 of the OIC Charter states.
The OMF statute is posted below:OIC Media Forum_statute
It is ironic that the OMF statute provides Turkey, the world’s largest prison for journalists, a leading role in promoting freedom of expression and press freedom in OIC member states.
According to the SCF, 165 journalists are behind bars in Turkey, while 167 who were forced into exile are wanted on fabricated terrorism charges. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest newspaper as well as popular TV networks since 2015.
Erdoğan’s strategy of repressing critics and journalists and of destroying freedoms guaranteed by the Turkish constitution and relevant domestic laws accelerated after the Gezi protests of 2013. Turkey’s anti-democratic process took on new momentum after corruption scandals that incriminated Erdoğan became public knowledge in the December 17-25, 2013 period. The abortive coup on July 15, 2016 allowed President Erdoğan to further consolidate his power over the Turkish media.
Following the attempt, more than 130,000 civil servants were dismissed by the government with no effective judicial or administrative investigation. With the purge and/or imprisonment of 4,560 judges and prosecutors in the 2016-2017 period, the rule of law was effectively suspended and the Turkish judiciary was transformed into a tool of the government, which often abuses the criminal justice system to punish its critics and opponents on terrorism charges.
Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media freedom watchdog, which describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”
“The witch-hunt waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government against its media critics came to a head in the wake of an abortive coup in July 2016. After the elimination of dozens of media outlets and the acquisition of Turkey’s biggest media group by a pro-government conglomerate, the authorities are tightening their grip on what little is left of pluralism – a handful of media outlets that are being harassed and marginalized. Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists. Spending more than a year in prison before trial is the new norm, and long jail sentences are common, in some cases as long as life imprisonment with no possibility of a pardon. Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any effective legal recourse. The rule of law is a fading memory in the ‘New Turkey’ of paramount presidential authority. Censorship of websites and online social media has reached unprecedented levels and the authorities are now trying to bring online video services under control. Turkey’s military involvement in Libya and in Syria (along the border and in Idlib), and the migrant issue have expanded the range of topics that are subject to censorship and self-censorship and have increased use of the judicial system for political ends,” RSF stated in its report.