The ‘Gang of Five’, Restrictions to Press, Election Justice

In the photo President Erdoğan with well-known moguls Mehmet Cengiz, Nihat Özdemir and Mehmet Nazif Günal that are called a member of the “Gang of five.”

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) submitted a new draft law to the parliament, which stipulates a further punishment to mention corporations in public that can be regarded as “defamation.” That stirred a debate since Turkey’s public has long been calling a number of construction moguls involved in mega infrastructure projects “gang of five” since they are the top ten companies that participate in public-private partnership schemes in infrastructure projects globally. So people asked if that would be a crime to call the moguls “gang of five” from now on.

Responding to the law, journalist Çiğdem Toker proposed alternative names for Gang of Five in her column. Some suggested “known five,” some gave reference to golden. These are five of the top ten companies in the world; the following three are from China, which is already practising state capitalism under the Communist Party. That’s why opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu nicknamed them the “Gang of Five”, and this name found its place in shared vocabulary.

When somebody refers to the Gang of Five, what comes to mind is Erdogan’s economic policy, which has dragged the country into the current crisis we are in. Not just about a handful of companies that stand out as mega construction, also about cryptocurrency companies, food companies, AKP takes every corruption news personally, interpreting it as political propaganda against the party and even as subversion.

In the current atmosphere where Turkey is in an election mood, this disturbs Erdogan and the AKP.

The target is not the “five”

That’s why the AKP has included a landmine-like phrase in the omnibus bill that is conveyed to the parliament on Friday, March 25th. The article is as follows:

“About companies subject to the Financial Leasing, Factoring, Financing and Savings Financing Companies Law No. 6361; Anyone who deliberately causes an issue that may damage the reputation or wealth of the company or defamation through the press, or makes false news in this way, will be sentenced to imprisonment from 1 year to 3 years and a judicial fine from one thousand days to two thousand days. If this situation causes private or public harm, the penalty will be increased by 1/6.”

It just seems to be about financial transactions, right? Let’s ask this: In a country where there are financial leasing, factoring, etc., companies affiliated with every business group over a specific size, how this law will not be valid for every company in practice? Did you say independent judiciary? Okay then. The independent court will never allow this law to ban publication covering allegations of corruption and irregularity of companies and groups awarded public tenders, right?

Further restrictions on the press

Journalist organizations reacted harshly to this draft law. The Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) condemned the initiative by establishing a direct link with the upcoming elections.

But Erdogan and his ally MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli’s obligation to do whatever it takes, including changing the rules of the game, to win this election brings new restrictions.
The 11th article of the new draft law submitted to the parliament with the agreement of the AKP and the MHP, excludes the president from the election bans. In other words, the president can make a political speech as he wishes when election propaganda bans are imposed on other parties. This is an objectionable initiative, even if President Erdoğan was not the AKP leader along with his presidential hat, and completely overshadows electoral justice in the partisan president model.

This is an objectionable situation not only in terms of electoral justice but also in terms of freedom of expression and press. Newspapers, radio, television or internet sites that report the activities of any opposition party at the same time as the president’s any election activity, which he is free to do as he pleased, may be penalized.

New landmines ahead of the election

It is only the activities of the president that is free to be reported. It is already mandatory for the state-run TRT and media, most of which are already under the control of the “Five” conglomerates.

This propaganda inequality may not be limited to the elections to be held. In the process leading up to the elections, new schemes may be brought to prevent the voice of the opposition from being heard. Just like the mines that dispersed into the Black Sea and threatened the Bosphorus in the war environment that started with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a possibility that new obstacles will be put against both freedom of press and expression and the realization of pluralist democracy through fair and free elections.

Are these people employed in Presidency and AKP Headquarters hired for nothing? Be sure that they are working very hard.

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