ANKARA (MEDIA )
Turkey’s president on Friday ruled out any ban on Facebook and YouTube after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the sites could be shut to stop his foes anonymously posting audio recordings purportedly exposing corruption in his inner circle.
In the latest recording, released on YouTube late on Thursday, Erdogan is purportedly heard berating a newspaper owner over the telephone about an article and suggesting the journalists be sacked, in comments that will further stoke concerns over media freedom and Erdogan’s authoritarian style of leadership.
Erdogan, who rejects any accusations of corruption, blames U.S.-based Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, for the wiretaps which he says have been “fabricated”. Gulen, who denies any involvement, has many followers in Turkey, especially in the police and judiciary.
President Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, said freedom of expression was an important value buttressed by the government’s own reforms.
“Closure (of the social media sites) is out of the question,” Gul said when asked about Erdogan’s threat, adding that under a recent law authorities could block access to material on the sites if a person’s privacy were violated.
“We are always proud of the reforms we have made regarding the broadening of freedoms,” said Gul, who has come under fire from liberal-minded Turks over the past year for not contesting some government measures they see as curtailing basic freedoms.
As president, Gul can veto laws once and send them back to parliament for further work.
In a TV interview on Thursday, Erdogan raised the option of a ban on YouTube and Facebook after March 30 local elections, saying: “We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way … because these people (Gulen’s followers) … encourage every kind of immorality and espionage for their own ends.”
Erdogan, Turkey’s most popular politician, says the postings are part of a campaign to discredit him and his government, which has presided over more than a decade of strong economic growth and rising living standards.
Turkey’s embattled prime minister has warned that his government could ban popular social media networks YouTube and Facebook after a number of online leaks added momentum to a spiralling corruption scandal.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposals to tighten his government’s grip over the Internet have generated criticism at home and abroad about rights in the EU-hopeful country.
“There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30… including a ban (on YouTube, Facebook),” Erdogan told private ATV television in an interview late on Thursday. In stark contrast, President Abdullah Gul, a frequent social media user, said YouTube and Facebook cannot be unplugged.
“YouTube and Facebook are recognised platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question,” he told reporters on Friday. The president in Turkey is however a largely ceremonial figure. Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful leader since 2003, has been under mounting pressure after audio recordings were leaked last month in which he and his son allegedly discuss how to hide vast sums of money.