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26th Feb 2024

Turkey ranks lowest in Europe's press freedom index

  • One in seven people live in a country with a 'free' press, says Freedom House (Photo: Hindrik S)

Europe maintains the overall highest press freedoms worldwide despite rollbacks in Greece, Montenegro, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Among the 42 countries ranked in Europe in a report out on Thursday (1 May) by the US-based NGO Freedom House, Turkey has seen the greatest decline.

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The NGO scales the rankings by looking at how media is affected by a country's laws, politics, and economy.

Media in Turkey was previously rated as "partly free". The NGO has now ranked it as "not free".

Recent crackdowns and restrictive provisions in Turkey's criminal code along with its Anti-Terrorism Act means more and more journalists are being jailed.

As of December last year, 40 were behind bars, making Turkey the world's leading jailer of journalists.

On Monday, a Turkish columnist was sentenced to 10 months in prison reportedly because of a typo in a Tweet.

Onder Aytac of an opposition newspaper claims he unintentionally inserted the letter K in a Tweet about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The extra letter means he told Erdogan to "fuck off".

Greece and Montenegro slipped in the partly free category.

Greece dropped in part because of the forced government shut down of the public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and an increase in libel suits and surveillance against journalists.

Bombs targeting journalists and news outlets in Montenegro, along with government efforts to cut funding of critical media are among the reasons behind its drop in the press freedom index.

The UK, for its part, maintains a free press but dropped in the category after government authorities used the Terrorism Act to detain the partner of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald.

UK authorities last year also raided the offices at The Guardian newspaper and forced the editors to destroy hard drives with data on US-led mass surveillance.

Other EU member states in the partly free category include Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania.

The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden were ranked as the world's most free in terms of press. The worst performer on the global stage was North Korea, followed by Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Around 14 percent of the world's population live in country with a free press. At 44 percent, most live where there is no press.

Freedom House, for its part, says the overall global rankings means press freedoms have reached the lowest level in over a decade.

“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments' efforts to control the message and punish the messenger,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report, in a statement.

Governments step up Internet surveillance

At a separate event on hate speech in the media in Brussels last week, organised by the International Federation of Journalists, a top Google official said more and more governments are cracking down on the Internet.

"In recent years, months, we are really seeing a crackdown on the Internet," said William Echikson, a spokesperson for the internet search giant.

Echikson noted that at least 17 countries have blocked the social video sharing website YouTube at one time or another.

"We are receiving more and more threats about content on YouTube everywhere around the globe," he said.

Echiskon said the recent mass surveillance revelations by Edward Snowden have led to an increasing number of governments wanting to control the Internet.

He noted France recently snuck in a law in its defence appropriations bill that allows the government "great access to conduct surveillance on the Internet".

Turkey moves to block YouTube

After having denied Turkey's 12 million Twitter users access to the micro-blogging site, Turkish authorities have now moved to block YouTube.

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