ISTANBUL: Two Bloomberg reporters on Friday appeared in a Turkish court accused of damaging the country’s economy by writing an article about last year’s currency crisis.
Numerous other defendants, including economists and journalists, have also been charged in the case over their critical comments on social media about the financial turmoil in August 2018.
If found guilty they could face up to five years in prison.
Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, said: “We condemn the indictment issued against our reporters, who have reported fairly and accurately on newsworthy events. We fully stand by them and will support them throughout this ordeal.”
The case, which opened in Istanbul on Friday, was brought after a complaint from Turkey’s banking watchdog BDDK and Capital Markets Board. The criminal court will begin hearing the second session of the prosecution on Jan 17.
The Bloomberg reporters’ article angered Turkish decision-makers and financial institutions after it claimed that the country’s Central Bank would be holding an emergency meeting over a plunge in the value of the lira against the dollar — the biggest currency shock to hit Turkey since 2001 — mainly brought on by a diplomatic crisis with the US.
The independence of the Turkish Central Bank has been high on the agenda for some time in the recession-hit economy, especially after the dismissal of its governor by a presidential decree in early July with no official reason given.
Experts said the trial was a continuation of a campaign of intimidation against journalists working in independent local and foreign media in Turkey. One local journalist, Cengiz Erdinc, has been convicted of “ruining the prestige” of the state-run Ziraat bank.
Last year, the Turkish Interior Ministry said it would take legal action against 346 social media accounts it claimed had created negative perceptions about the Turkish economy.
In another attempted press crackdown in Turkey, the pro-government SETA think tank in Istanbul recently published a report profiling Turkish journalists working for foreign media organizations, including Arab News, accusing them of “carrying out a perception work” through their “univocal line of reporting.”
Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at the Lebanese American University, said Turkey’s existing foreign policy and the government’s discourse over the last two years, totally fitted what was going on in the Bloomberg trial.
“The (Turkish) Justice and Development Party’s paranoid and conspiracy-driven political discourse is directly reflected to accusations against these journalists,” he told Arab News.
“Journalists are accused of attempting an ‘economic coup.’ The tweets and stories they published, like in all trials of journalists in Turkey, are used against them. I think one of the most important factors here is that Bloomberg seems to be a handful of comparatively independent, economy focused newsrooms.”
On the day of the trial, the US dollar/Turkish lira exchange rate rose to 5.7140, from 5.6980 on Thursday. The Turkish economy has contracted for the past three quarters.