Germany tells Turkey 'press freedom is non-negotiable' amid media row

September 7, 2016 7:32 AM EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany said on Wednesday it regarded press freedom as crucial after German broadcaster Deutsche Welle complained that Turkey had confiscated the recording of an interview with a minister at his office in Ankara.

The head of Deutsche Welle on Tuesday described the seizure of the tape of an interview with Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic as a "blatant violation of press freedom".

The tape incident further adds to strains in ties between Germany and Turkey at a time when Chancellor Angela Merkel needs Ankara's help in managing Europe's migrant crisis. Her critics accuse Merkel of turning a blind eye to Turkey's human rights record to ensure Ankara's cooperation.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin's ambassador to Ankara had held "good and constructive" talks with a senior official in the sports minister's office and that they agreed the incident should not enflame tensions between the countries.

"(The ambassador) made clear that for us, for him, for the German government and German media, press freedom is very important," the spokesman told a regular news conference.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert added: "Press freedom is for us ... non-negotiable. We behave (according to this principle) at home and we represent it abroad."

Following a failed military coup in Turkey on July 15, Germany has expressed concern over the scale of President Tayyip Erdogan's purges of tens of thousands of officials, judges, soldiers and others believed to have supported the putsch. Turkey has also shut many media outlets.

Germany and the European Union fear Erdogan is using public anger among Turks over the coup to crack down on dissent.

Deutsche Welle reporter Michel Friedman had asked the minister about the attempted coup, the subsequent mass dismissals and arrests and the media situation before the tape was confiscated, the broadcaster said.

Even before the coup tensions between Ankara and Berlin were running high after Erdogan took legal action against a German comedian who ridiculed him as well as over a resolution adopted by the German parliament in June declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a "genocide".

Berlin is also embroiled in a row with Turkey over whether its lawmakers can visit 250 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Turkey had banned the visit after the Armenian resolution.

The foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin hoped German lawmakers could soon visit the soldiers.

"Any other outcome would surprise me," the spokesman said.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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