News

AEJ Turkey 2015 Report: Arrests, criminalisation of journalism and mass sackings spell ‘new low’ for press freedom

Conditions for all media have deteriorated sharply in Turkey in the past year. The governmental and judicial pressure on independent journalism has reached unprecedented levels.

Scores of journalists and media employees were either simply fired or forced to resign. A large number of authors and broadcasters were faced with investigations and lawsuits;they get condemned to prison sentences and/or punitive fines.

Censorship, self-censorship, and court cases against certain media are aimed at intimidating and dissuading them from publishing news critical of the government or the President. President Erdogan has been particularly sensitive to any criticism of himself or his family, reacting with harsh public statements against named journalist as well as launching several libel cases.

Political statements targeting journalists and media organizations have fueled the worries and brought wide criticism from Turkey’s western allies and foreign press pouring down from Brussels, Washington and others.

According to the recent report of the Press for Freedom project, conditions for media freedom worsened in 2015.731 journalists were denied access to news; 29 journalists were denied access to news through the accreditation process; 84 publications were banned; 87 journalists, 69 male and 16 female, were taken into custody;77journalists were the subject of criminal complaints; 123 cases were brought against journalists; 4 journalists were sentenced to prison time;50 journalists were subjected to physical and verbal attacks; 81 journalists were fired; and 27 journalists were forced to resign.

On the other hand, media companies and journalists,who hail and glorify whatever the government or the President do, are exempt from such practices of harassment. Often, pro-government media leads the way targeting their independent colleagues. Thus, the media looks divided into two segments, those writing blindly about the good deeds of the government and those criticizing the government and striving to be as independent as possible.

Another type of censorships that lately was put into practice is through “accreditation”. Certain reporters working for newspapers and TV channels that are undergovernment’s and ruling party’s unannounced blacklist, are banned entry to events organized either by the governing party or the state.

Violations on the press heightened covering the east of Turkey, when clashes between the PKK and the Turkish for cesre-started over the last months. Curfews were declared in towns and the independent press was prevented from entering and reporting from the area.

Some media supporting the Kurdish insurgency in the area were banned and access to their websites are stopped. A total of 309 websites were blocked since the start of 2015. The President’s lawyers almost every day accuse certain journalists with slander or start of court cases against media members on similar charges.In the last nine months,the President and his family members opened 60 court cases.

The current furor of prosecutions and convictions for insults, gross violations of freedom of expression and media freedom highlights the underlying conflict between growing authoritarian is mand the country’s secular and democratic forces. Recently, the President and his followers publicly attacked a media boss and accused one of the  country’s best-selling newspaper and a news channels with a betting terrorism and engaging in terrorist propaganda.Two days after such accusations, one well known columnist of that paper was attacked in front of his home and was beaten up by a mob of four. The suspects were later identified as members of the ruling party.

The free press is suffering intensely under a climate of fear, but despite the harsh conditions they still keep writing and publishing.In fact, there are still media members and media bosses who bravely continue to defend not only the ethical standards of the profession but those norms and values of the democracy and freedom of thought. Those media members, newspapers and TV channels, as well as periodicals and the electronic media who are defying all the challenges, bans and restrictions are trying to fulfill the task of serving the unalienable right of the citizen to have access to information.

Unfortunately, some journalists, many writers, academics and intellectuals were brutally murdered in the short republican history of Turkey because of what they said, wrote or stood for. Recently, a bomb was placed in the garden of a leading media group. Many journalists could have lost their lives if security people had not discovered it in time and disposed of it. The CEO of the same group survived an assassination attempt. Headquarters of another major media group was attacked twice by mobs that included a ruling party deputy.

Despite all hardships, the Turkish media have managed to remain afloat even in the worst periods. They must continue to do so in future in the face of all the hardships, obstacles and attacks.