Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied pressure on Turkey's largest media group, regarding the 2.5 billion USD fine to Dogan Media as a routine procedure by the revenue authority.
Addressing Ambassadors of EU countries at a fast-breaking dinner hosted Wednesday by the Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Premier Erdogan defended his government against criticisms on "freedom of press" noting that it had no intentions of silencing the free press or exerting political pressure on it.
"I believe it is not right to mistake the routine works of the state agencies with freedom of press," Erdogan told the ambassadors.
Erdogan said it was natural for him to defend himself against attacks on his freedoms and rights.
"The press has been freely criticising me and it will continue to do so. We are not against criticism but against defamation. Attempts by the media to manipulate the political arena through smear campaigns can't be tolerated in any democratic country. However I have no right or authority to exert political or economic pressure on press organs, neither do they have the right to assume privileges against the law," said Erdogan, in his first public statement on the fine.
Erdogan said the freedom of press did not give press organs the privilege to violate the laws adding that those who did would face the legal consequences.
The Turkish Premier said it was wrong for certain circles, both home and abroad to use a mere legal procedure as a leverage for pressure against Turkey.
"Turkey is a state of law. It is a country much more free and democratic than it was seven years ago. Press is one of the organs that enjoys this the most. It will be wrong if this situation is distorted and exploited, and used against Turkey in the EU with foul propaganda," said Erdogan.
"Efforts to affect probe"
Turkish Finance Ministry fined Turkish publisher Dogan Yayin Holding 3.75 billion TL (2.52 billion USD) for tax irregularities in a second such penalty.
Dogan Yayin was fined more than $500 million in February.
The ministry issued the penalty after an examination into tax reports for 2005, 2006 and 2007, Dogan said, adding that the fine includes unpaid tax of 1.87 billion TL, loss of tax of 1.87 TL and unspecified tax irregularities of a total of 342 million.
Dogan Yayin owns two of Turkey's three top-selling newspapers and two of the four most-watched television stations.
The Finance Ministry said on Monday accusations that Dogan Yayin had been singled out "are seriously disturbing.
"These baseless publications are seen as efforts to affect the probe and mislead the public ... Inspectors have not only examined Dogan Yayin Group firms but the great majority of the media sector and continue to examine," it said, without providing further details.
On Friday, TUSIAD, an association of Turkey's main companies and whose current president is a daughter of Aydin Dogan, accused the Finance Ministry of bowing to political pressure.
The AK Party government, in power since 2002, has stepped up tax inspections as it tackles the vast unregistered economy.
In recent years the business landscape has seen a marked change in Turkey with the emergence of a powerful conservative, pro-AK Party elite that has challenged the status quo held by a secular business elite, represented by a number of families, such as Koc, Sabanci and Dogan.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Eylül 2009, 10:54