Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Stakeholder

Let Turkey's journalists report freely

  • When lawmakers passed a parole law earlier this year to ease overcrowding in prisons, they excluded those convicted under Turkey's anti-terror law - the main instrument of choice to jail journalists (Photo: Scott McKiernan)

Last month, the International Press Institute (IPI) published Turkey's Journalists on the Ropes, the latest report on the dramatic press freedom situation in Turkey.

The report, which summarises the outcome of a press freedom mission carried out by 11 international groups in October, paints a depressing picture of the environment for journalism in the country.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

According to IPI's figures, 79 journalists remain behind bars in Turkey.

While this is down from a high of over 160 in 2018, the figure still makes Turkey one of the world's leading jailers of journalists.

Meanwhile, numerous reporters continue to face arbitrary prosecution and detention. Indeed, any public criticism of topics that are sensitive to the government risks being met with criminal charges.

This year, the most prominent example was the March 2020 arrest of six journalists for allegedly revealing the name of an intelligence agent – whose identity had already been made public in parliament.

Meanwhile, the country's judicial system remains under the sway of the executive branch, with predictable consequences for the rule of law.

Journalists targeted for their reporting face severe breaches of their right to a fair trial.

Troublingly, the government recently took aim at the independence of the Turkish Constitutional Court, a key remaining bulwark for fundamental rights, threatening to "restructure" the court in line with Turkey's presidential system.

These problems are not new.

2020, however, has seen the emergence of new challenges to the free flow of news and information in Turkey. Key among these has been the co-opting of nominally independent regulatory bodies.

Turkey's television and radio regulator, RTÜK, has repeatedly fined or issued short-term bans on major television broadcasters for their critical content.

Several broadcasters now face the revocation of their licence. Likewise, the Press Advertising Agency, or BIK, has taken to issuing state advertising bans on independent media, depriving these outlets of a crucial source of revenue amid an economic crisis.

Online censorship, too

Digital censorship is on the rise, too. Between 2015 and 2019, Turkey's telecommunications regulatory body blocked over 21,000 websites, including 2,000 news websites and 669 specific news articles, based on one specific legal provision introduced in 2015, according to EngelliWeb.

This year, the authorities took a step further toward online content control by passing a social media law that will effectively allow the government to force social media companies to remove unwanted content.

This law would turn these companies into an arm of Turkey's censorship apparatus.

As everywhere else, journalism in Turkey has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Turkey, the consequences have been especially stark: when lawmakers passed a parole law earlier this year to ease overcrowding in prisons, they excluded those convicted under Turkey's anti-terror law - the main instrument of choice to jail journalists.

In the face of this continued repression, IPI launched the campaign "Let Turkey's Journalists Report Freely" last week with a series of newspaper advertisements.

The campaign coincided with Human Rights Day on December 10. The choice of Human Rights Day reflects the fact that press freedom is not only a right unto itself, but also supports all other rights, including those of Turkey's minority communities.

The lack of political will in Turkey to reverse the years-long crackdown on press freedom, which began in earnest following the July 2016 coup attempt, is evident.

But the EU's approach to the violations of fundamental rights in Turkey, including free expression and press freedom, remains highly inconsistent.

In its most recent progress report published in October, the European Commission highlighted systemic human rights abuses in Turkey and a "serious backsliding" on freedom of expression.

On the other hand, the European Council has not made a bettering of relations with Turkey contingent on concrete progress in freedom of expression and human rights more generally.

In October, the European Council offered Turkey significant improvements in economic and diplomatic relations, repeated at the summit of December 10 and 11, in return for a resolution in the dispute over drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The offer was not coupled with a demand for human rights improvements. This is unfortunate.

The EU, EU citizens and EU businesses have an interest in a stable Turkey governed by the rule of law. Moreover, Brussels must not give up on all those in the country who believe in basic rights as well as a European future.

By failing to give priority to human rights in its dealings with Turkey, the EU abandons the very people in Turkey who believe in what the Union stands for.

IPI's #FreeTurkeyJournalists campaign provides exhaustive documentation of the violations of journalists' rights in Turkey. We keep regular data on the jailing of journalists and journalists' trials, conduct regular in-country trial monitoring, and advocate for an end to the crackdown in Turkey and respect for watchdog journalism.

Author bio

Scott Griffen is deputy director of the International Press Institute.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

Analysis

There is no 'Russia-Turkey alliance'

Talk of a grand Turkey-Russia realignment is premature, Nato and Russia experts say - despite Putin and Erdoğan's friendly ties.

Turkey to fine social media giants under new law

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and TikTok were fined by Turkish authoirties for failing to appoint a representative able to address complaints, as required by a new law.

EU law needed to protect free press, NGOs say

More than 60 NGOs and media, including EUobserver, have signed a call for an EU-wide law to stop the rich and powerful from silencing critics with malicious litigation.

Towards a truly 'European' Union

The EU did not solve the financial crisis, nor fix terrorism or radicalisation. Unlike most other political groups, the ECR doesn't believe these are temporary difficulties, but rather the consequences of the path this Union has taken in recent decades.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit prompted finance exodus from UK to France
  2. Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote in Senate
  3. Borrell washes hands of EU's Venezuela policy
  4. Russia backs Greece in eastern Mediterranean dispute
  5. 'Ski-holiday' Switzerland reaches new infection high
  6. Germany extends lockdown, others expected to follow
  7. Barnier to be Brexit special adviser to von der Leyen
  8. EU commisioner to visit Bosnia's Lipa migrant camp

Synergy need to tackle climate change in Mediterranean

The Interreg Med, a cross-border initiative of 13 countries around the Mediterranean Sea, has made the fight against climate change the cornerstone of its strategy for the next years - since the region is facing irreversible environmental damage.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  2. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  3. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference
  4. EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex
  5. Untapped potential of the single market could boost European recovery
  6. Biden's 'Age of Aquarius'? Mars and Venus will clash over China
  7. The new dimension of 'ever-closer union'
  8. What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us