Press Advertisement Agency (BİK) refused our appeal against the decision to stop allocating public sector advertisements in our newspaper. The reasons put forward for the decision were scandalous. One reader buying two papers was given as a reason for the decision.
BİK, whics is affiliated to the Presidency, is responsible for allocating public sector advertisements to newspapers. Most newspapers, especially ones like ours that are not owned by big corporations, depend on income raised via BİK advertisements.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED?
Evrensel called its readers to stand in solidarity against a financial siege by Turkish authorities. The campaign called “Every day buy 2 copies of Evrensel: Read one, give one to someone to read” gained countrywide support in a short time.
However, BİK authorities counted the campaign as an element of a crime. According to BİK reports, readers buying more than three newspapers presented as a reason for ceasing advertisements.
The BİK also reported on where the papers were taken after purchase. Evrensel’s lawyer Devrim Avcı said that this was an attempt to punish the paper through its readership “Are you physically following readers? This is what comes through your reports.”
Following investigations in individual newsagents, BİK claimed that readers purchasing more than one paper constitutes an offense and the paper didn’t meet its minimum actual sales quota. BİK visited individual newsagents in Adana, Ankara, Diyarbakır, İstanbul, İzmir and Kocaeli on 28 December and observed sales against the rule of “final purchase should be the sale of individual papers, except for exceptional circumstances where more then one is purchased” and that readers “purchased more than one paper.”
BİK: COMPLAINANT, VICTIM, ATTORNEY, JUDGE AND POLICE
Lawyer Devrim Avcı said that the role of BİK was to allocate public sector advertisements but that it uses its position to suppress newspapers such as Evrensel, BirGün and Cumhuriyet; “BİK makes a complaint, carries out the investigation and the sentencing. It is playing the role of complainant, victim, attorney, judge and police all at once. This unacceptable in a state of law.”
“ALL READERS ARE WORKERS?”
Avcı said that BİK going to cities and dictating how many copies an individual can buy is an attempt to stop Evrensel’s campaign of “Every day buy 2 copies of Evrensel: Read one, give one to someone to read”. In response to BİK’s decision that “those that purchase the paper work for the paper” she said “so you see all readers as workers? There would be many procedures involved, including national insurance payments if they really were workers of the paper. You show none of these as proof but still see all that purchase the paper as workers of the paper. This is discrimination.”
ARE READERS ACTUALLY FOLLOWED?
Avcı continued: “They say newspapers are bought in Diyarbakır and taken to the prison. Are you following the individuals that bought the papers? How do you know they are taken to the prison? Are you following them? That is the conclusion we reach from your report. The paper is being punished through its readership. We’ll be challenging this through legal means.”
ALLOCATIONS WILL PERMANENTLY BE STOPPED WITHIN TWO MONTHS
In its decision BİK also mentioned that “papers that do not continue receiving public service advertisements for six months following a suspension… will lose permanently their right to receive these advertisements.” Our paper received its suspension on 18 September 2019. We appealed on 2 October but it was rejected on 10 October. The decision was also delayed by the late delivery of the BİK notification by PTT (National Postal Service). We asked for a “re-evaluation” on 14 October. Our newspaper paid for the re-evaluation which was granted on 4 November. By 19 November the re-evaluation had not taken place yet so we wrote asking for a response. Finally, we received the report including the alleged bulk buying on 14 January 2020. The stated decision was that “the newspaper continues to act against clause 19 of the legislation regarding removal of allocations of public service advertisements.” Our newspaper’s right to publish public service advertisements was suspended four months ago and if this ban is not lifted by March, Evrensel’s status will become one that cannot receive public service advertisement.
JOURNALIST ORGANISATIONS CALL FOR SOLIDARITY WITH EVRENSEL: WE WON’T BUY TWO, BUT THREE NEWSPAPERS
Many individuals and institutions in the media stated their support for Evrensel:
Gökhan Durmuş, the general secretary of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) mentioned that financial sanctions against opposition media outlets by BİK have increased in the recent years and that BİK is trying to economically push them to the brink, issuing suspensions using reasons against legislation. Durmuş said “everyone knows that a newspaper close to the rulership is sold in bulk but Evrensel is punished for one reader purchasing two papers” and continued “as a reader who buys two papers as a part of Evrensel’s campaign do I need to look over my shoulder to see if I’m followed? What kind of a decision is this? How many papers I buy concerns me not the BİK. They should also explain under what legislation they are following people. BİK should return immediately to its principals of equality. The suspension against Evrensel should be lifted immediately and the paper should receive its deserved share from official notices.”
DİSK Media Workers’ Branch General Secretary Faruk Eren said BİK’s decision was “like a joke” and that “they are looking for excuses to pressure people.” He said the rulership doesn’t want the public to hear the truth and “newspaper that report the truth are put under pressure. Some of this pressure is economical just as Evrensel and BirGün faced. Journalists will continue to share the truth with the public. From now on we’ll buy not two but three papers.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, said that “BİK should firstly explain its ‘performance’ against those newspapers involved in political immorality, prejudice and intolerance and feel ashamed of attacking a newspaper that reports on workers’ and peoples’ rights. We know that government institutions buy some papers in bulk or they are distributed freely, which is deemed acceptable; but why is the distribution of a newspaper by its own distributors a problem? Turkey’s media regulators are running a scheme of liquidation through double standards.”
Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD), Can Güleryüzlü said “We are not surprised that Evrensel is targeted. Because Evrensel exposes the rulership’s system of exploitation; carries the rights of the exploited to its pages and reports on workers’ struggles as objective journalists.”
CHP MP Utku Çakırözer, formerly a journalist himself, reacted against the embargo on Evrensel and the reasons for it in the Parliament. He said “BİK suspensions continue despite the reaction. It is unbelievable that Evrensel has been punished! They went to newsagents and blacklisted readers for supporting their newspapers. They were questioned on why they buy more than one newspaper and the newspaper was fined. Reader support is not an offence. This violation of rights against Evrensel, BirGün and Cumhuriyet must be stopped immediately.”
A wave of anger is also burst out over social media. Several people shared their photos while buying ‘more than one copy of Evrensel” as “an element of a crime” through their social media accounts. Also, Evrensel's call for solidarity campaign gained a lot of attention by re-tweets.