Turkey punishing European journalists is show of power -- MEP

Turkey’s refusal last month to renew the press credentials of three German journalists is about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan showing his country’s might in an effort to be seen as equal to Western powers, British member of European Parliament Steven Woolfe said Monday on euronews.

In late February, Thomas Seibert, a reporter for Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, Jörg Brase, the Istanbul studio head for Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, and German radio reporter Halil Gülbeyaz, were denied press cards, which foreign journalists need to work in Turkey.

On the euronews show Raw Politics on Monday evening, two guest MEPs discussed Turkey's rejection of press credentials for the German journalists. Woolfe said Erdoğan has leverage because of Turkey’s refugee deal with the EU, agreed in 2016 to stop the influx of migrants into the bloc.

"With the European Union he has power,” said Woolfe. “He can open the doors and allow millions of Syrians and other migrants that are currently resting in his country, and he can allow them to flood Europe ... He’s threatened to do that. And we begged him not to by giving him 6 billion euros."

Ana Miranda, a Spanish MEP for the Green Party, said anybody with ideas contrary to Erdoğan was being persecuted, including academics, journalists, and protesters marching last week to mark of International Women’s Day.  

She said her party wanted to freeze negotiations on Turkey joining the EU due to Erdoğan’s erosion of the rule of law and lack of freedom of speech. According to Woolfe, only part of Turkey’s population wants to join the EU.

“There’s another part that’s saying, ‘You’ve got to look at the changing fabric of our world. China is closer to us. The Middle East is closer to us. Russia is closer to us, and perhaps it’s time for us as Turkey, as a nation with a huge population, a very strong army, to say that we could influence what goes on in the world,’” Woolfe said. "[Erdoğan] is saying: ‘I'm equal to you, I'm not a supplement to the European Union. You need me more than I need you.’"

Reporters Without Borders placed Turkey 157th out of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index in 2018, down two places from the previous year, and called Turkey the “world’s biggest jailer of journalists” in its 2018 report. Journalists Seibert and Brase held a press conference at Istanbul airport on Sunday, shortly before flying home to Germany.

“The Turkish government managed to more or less silence the national media,” Brase told reporters. “They are now trying to do it with the international media, and we should not submit to that.”