With 139 journalists in prison, many more being tried on charges ranging from terrorism to aiding terrorist organizations and some 121 media organizations shut down since July 2016, press freedom in Turkey has been severely undermined by the government. Despite these challenges that are many independent journalists in the country trying to uphold press freedom.
On World Press Freedom Day, IPI asked six prominent and experienced journalists in Turkey about their experiences of working in a country without a pluralistic, free press. Here is what they had to say:
Mehveş Evin has been a journalist for 26 years, writes for artigercek.com and broadcasts on ArtıTv and Acik Radio.
As a journalist working in Turkey, where freedom of the press is undermined daily, I am more hopeful than before. Our colleagues are jailed on unjust grounds, tried, fined, harassed, threatened and the mainstream media is almost totally under control of the government.
Still, there are many journalists and a dozen digital, diverse, independent, critical media outlets who are in the quest of the truth and inform the public. No matter how much pressure the rulers exercise on the media, the latest election results clearly show that they don’t have absolute power to manipulate public opinion. Every single effort and support for the free press in Turkey is of extreme importance.
Çiğdem Toker has been an economic journalist for 33 years. She contributed for many years to the secular daily Cumhuriyet and more recently writes for Sözcü newspaper.
We and our fellow journalist colleagues, who spend our lives fulfilling the right of the people to receive the news, are day by day paying an unjustly heavy price.
The practice of independent journalism has been thoroughly criminalized. Those journalists who wish to enjoy their right to report and disseminate the news are subject to serious miscarriages of justice. Our colleagues, who have committed no crime whatsoever, are being dealt with heavy prison sentences that are not based upon any concrete or material evidence in relation to criminal law. Those articles and reports they have written, the posts they have shared on social media, all come under the auspices of freedom of expression and yet the detentions and judicial proceedings for this, their journalistic work, are carrying ongoing.
Journalists who are defendants in the same case are not all able to access the same appeal rights as one another and this situation is now leading to serious injustice. The polarization and hate speech so prevalent now in society as a whole is adding to the problems already present in our profession.
The most powerful action we can take in this oppressive media climate is to stand up in the strongest and most wide-reaching terms for freedom of expression.
Free and independent journalism is a de facto pillar of democracy and it is now more important than ever to strengthen our support for those journalists who are paying the price for delivering the news to the people and fulfilling their human right to be informed.
Faruk Bildirici, a journalist of 40 years’ experience, was the ombudsman for Hürriyet newspaper and quit his job there recently.
The media has become a vehicle by which the owners of commercial conglomerates engage in power play. They use journalism as a means to maximize profits and force journalists to leave unions, thus rendering them far weaker as individuals.
The scenario we find ourselves in is more vicious than it’s ever been. It is no longer possible to speak, in universal terms, of press freedom existing in Turkey, nor of the right of the people to receive the news being fulfilled in our country.
But they have not killed off the profession of journalism and it will not be killed. Though they may be few in number, there are still a handful of critical opposition newspapers and television stations that continue the struggle to report. The technological revolution, too, is on our side. The powers that are dragging the traditional media through the mangle cannot succeed in shaping internet media to their design.
We journalists will not give up the struggle of delivering the news and the truth to the people. The hopes we nurture for democracy and freedom will not decline. With the support of the readers and viewers who thirst for the truth and for news that is devoid of any ulterior motive, we will overcome these current days.
Banu Güven, a prominent broadcaster and journalist for 28 years, contributes to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition.
We have been dismissed from our jobs, our venues have been closed down or sold to government-friendly businesses, but we find ways to cope with these efforts to silence the free press through online media. There are also a few channels and newspapers, which, despite their scarce resources, make a difference in revealing the unseen and untold. Social media is the ultimate medium to overcome the obstacles put by the government. Therefore, I think that the most alarming problem we face now as journalists in Turkey is the arbitrary imprisonment and punishment of our colleagues.
Some journalists have been given aggravated life sentences. Some have already spent years behind bars. Some of them have to return to prison. Kurdish journalists are subject to harsh prison sentences based on fake evidence mostly made up by security forces. All this builds up to a constant threat to journalists who still try to do their jobs. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to remind the Turkish government, that is to say, the President himself, of Turkey’s international obligations at every single opportunity. Instead of giving the Turkish judicial system the long-lost benefit of the doubt, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) should remember its raison d’être and act immediately.
Fatih Polat is editor in chief and also writes for Evrensel daily. He has 27 years of journalistic experience.
In Turkey, a wide range of media organizations have come under the hegemony of the political administration and their many voices have synthesized into one, pro-government mouthpiece. Even though the small number of independent and alternative internet sites have ensured the right of the people to receive the news to be partially fulfilled, this is not the answer to the problem of such high journalist unemployment.
Before long, even some of those news organizations that have come under government influence will be forced to shut down. The political administration thinks it will not see a return on its investment in these media organizations and will turn to a limited few news outlets to serve the purpose of spreading its message. As the climate of censorship grows in Turkey and the media organizations and pro-government press continue to use identical news items from the pool there will be no solution to the mass unemployment of journalists. We need stronger professional bodies for journalists to join. We don’t even see journalists bearing placards at the May 1st Labour day gathering. The fact that when they are unemployed, journalists no longer see themselves as workers, is unfortunately of growing concern in our sector. In Europe, the ties between journalist unions are stronger. In order to change the scenario here in Turkey becoming organized and unionized is now of critical importance.
At the same time, we can’t solve this problem on our own. We need the people, the readers, viewers and listeners and we need the democratic associations to bring the issues of press freedom, the poor quality of news, the lack of plurality of voices and the journalist unemployment onto the agenda. In the face of the present, gloomy scenario I believe strongly that we must fight on in order to bring about change and as we do so I am hopeful that we will get closer and closer to better days and a more positive environment.
Hakkı Boltan has been a journalist for 15 years. He is also the chairman of the shuttered Free Journalists’ Association (Özgür Gazeteciler Cemiyeti)
Despite the current regime’s use of policies of intimidation and silencing during the recent municipal elections, the free and independent sectors of the press engaged in a strong drive to publish and report the news and in so doing created a strong movement of solidarity in Istanbul and other major cities across Turkey. The importance and strength of a free and independent media was thoroughly demonstrated during the local elections. It also showed how the current leader’s administration can be beaten. This was the largest and most important win for Turkey’s media in a long time. In this way the 3rd of May, World Press Freedom Day found a small but practical expression in Turkey.