“[F]reedom is the oxygen of journalism, and free journalism is the assurance of democracy”, prominent journalism advocacy groups said in a joint declaration issued on May 3 highlighting the myriad number of threats to media freedom that journalists in Turkey currently face.
The Freedom for Journalists Platform (Gazetecilere Özgürlük Platformu), an umbrella group representing 94 national and local journalists’ organizations, including the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Turkish National Committee, was joined in the declaration by the G-9 Platform, the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC), the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), the Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD) and the Basın-İş (Press Union).
Many of the threats the groups listed mirrored those referenced in a recent IPI Special Report on Turkey, “Democracy at Risk”, which cited ongoing economic pressure on media outlets, a toxic political climate, manipulation of the legal framework, pressure on speech online and ongoing impunity for attacks on journalists.
The IPI report drew on information collected during numerous IPI visits to the country over the last four years, including meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other top leaders last fall during a press freedom mission conducted jointly with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The full text of the groups’ May 3 declaration appears below in English.
FREEDOM IS THE OXYGEN OF JOURNALISM, JOURNALISM IS THE ASSURANCE OF DEMOCRACY
Once again we are welcoming May 3 as newspersons of a country where people who draw cartoons and post a tweet are charged with insulting the president, where people who write a news story and come up with a headline are charged with provoking the public against the government, where people who shoot documentaries are charged with making terrorist propaganda and where newspapers are put on trial and journalists are sentenced. In all, it is a country ranked 154th globally in terms of press freedoms.
Since 1993, when May 3 was declared “World Press Freedom Day” by the United Nations, we, as journalists of Turkey, have had nothing to “celebrate,” even for one year.
Today, we have 21 colleagues serving sentences in prisons, some of them for years, while thousands of lawsuits have been opened against hundreds of journalists. Moreover, we have a government that is practically making fun of us by saying that we have the freest press in the world. The Anti-Terrorism Law has been used for years to terrorize and suppress everyone who writes or draws.
We have been asked to conduct journalism, which is based on asking questions, without asking any questions or asking only the ones that the government wishes to hear.
Those who ask questions that annoy the government are immediately subjected to attacks from the street and social media.
The current accreditation system bans dissident journalists from public places where we need to be present to collect the news to convey to people. This accreditation system effectively bans all journalists, photojournalists and camera operators that do not openly support the government from even mosque courtyards. We are seriously worried that one day even parliament, where representatives of the public pass legislation, will be closed to journalists.
The right to a counterpoint is being abused and any news story that criticizes the government is denied without comprehensively examining the evidence.
The structure of media ownership built under holdings, which deal literally with everything except journalism, and the government, which is also a media tycoon, has set the ground for establishing a “journalism without reporters and photographers.” We are experiencing an unemployment nightmare with 10, 100, or 1,000 journalists being sacked every day.
In these times, when economic, political and physical pressure, threats and suppression have peaked, the president and prime minister can intervene in organizations and impose media blackouts without any court orders and attempt to control media companies with tax fines because of their unfavourable broadcasts. At the same time, self-censorship unavoidably emerges as another major obstacle blocking people’s right to receive information.
The Internet, globally regarded as a harbinger of freedom, has turned into a place of prohibition. It is now possible to ban websites without a court order, and they are passing legal regulations to chain social media.
Despite all these conditions, there are also highly paid “clerks” who jump at every opportunity to perform “journalism” and occupy screen time and the pages of columns. History is recording them on journalism’s page of disgrace.
We, as trade bodies that have signed this document, believe that the journalist must be an intellectual and the most fundamental criterion of intellectuality is serving the public and refusing to serve authority and the government.
Therefore, we say “freedom is the oxygen of journalism, and free journalism is the assurance of democracy.” We emphasize that our struggle for freedom of the press is given not only for one profession, but is also the struggle of every citizen that misses a free and democratic Turkey.
As such, we call on everyone to “STAND UP FOR JOURNALISM.”
Freedom for Journalists Platform (Gazetecilere Özgürlük Platformu) [including 94 national and local journalists organizations]
G-9 Platform [including Association of European Journalists (AEJ) Representative of Turkey, Basın-Sen (Press Union at public sector), Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD), Diplomatic Correspondents’ Association (DMD), Economic Reporters’ Association (EMD), Parliament Reporters’ Association (PMD), Professional News Cameramen Association, Tourism and Environment Reporters’ Association, Basın-İş (Press Union), Photojournalists Association of Turkey (TFMD), Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) Representative in Ankara, Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)]
Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC)
Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)
Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD)
Basın-İş (Press Union)