Blow to Press Freedom in Turkey

Dec 09, 2013 | Updated Feb 06, 2014

"A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad." -Albert Camus

The press is the main ideological force of our time. When our governments guarantee us a free press, it is worth defending, because freedom of the press is an essential check to guarantee popular participation in the decisions and actions of the government. This leads us towards democracy.

However, the European Parliament's (EP) draft report showed that a lack of freedom in the press, especially in terms of self-censorship, is one of the European Union's main concerns for the state of democracy in Turkey. A report written by Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten emphasizes that, while it is a vital European value, freedom of expression and media pluralism are questionable in Turkey because media owners have a wide range of business interests. The report points out Turkish politics' lack of a tradition of reaching a consensus and also the deepening polarization in the country. Oomen-Ruijten also notes the limited coverage of the May-June Gezi Park demonstrations in the Turkish media and the dismissal of journalists who criticized the government's reactions to those events.

The EP report highlights the large number of journalists currently in pre-trial detention. Last week, I attended the International Press Freedom Awards hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York. Turkish journalist Nedim Şener was one of the four award winners. When I talked to him before the ceremony, Şener said he would be more proud of the award if he were receiving it for his hard work, but unfortunately it was because of his resistance to government censorship. He said Turkey's government likes to talk about "big Turkey," but Şener countered that when the press is not free, it is nonsensical to talk about a country's development.

On the other hand, a recent Twitter campaign shows that press freedom is being restricted even further in Turkey. Tags such as #HürBasınGerçekDemokrasi and #BlowToPressFreedomInTURKEY appeared on Twitter after the government carried out two more disgraceful attacks on the free press.

First, adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ankara deputy Yalçın Akdoğan harshly criticized the Bugün daily last Wednesday for publishing a photo of Erdoğan and Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin holding hands. Akdoğan stated that the paper's choice of that photo for its front page was part of an effort to discredit the government. In response, the newspaper's statement said the photo was provided by the government's official news source, arguing that viewing the photo as something inappropriate showed a "sick mindset." As a female Turkish journalist, I don't even want to touch on Akdoğan's unfortunate comment. However, in my view it shows clearly how far political Islam or Islamism can go and the way in which Islamists perceive women.

Furthermore, the office of the Prime Ministry, secret service (MIT) and National Security Council (MGK) has taken legal action against the Taraf daily and journalist Mehmet Baransu, who revealed a controversial government document. "Prosecutors have launched an investigation into Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu for publishing a leaked national security document that includes a secret plot to curb activities of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Baransu is accused of 'unveiling documents that should be kept secret for the state's security and its political benefits,' 'political and military espionage' and 'unveiling information that is forbidden to announce,'" daily Today's Zaman reported. According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), publishing a secret document which is in the public interest is not a crime. Yes, the timing of the release might be questionable, but any journalist would do this for morality's sake. The document sheds light on a chaotic time in Turkey's recent history and the sharing of that information empowers the people of the country.

Last but not least, İstanbul Public Prosecutor's Office has opened and investigation on journalist Arzu Yıldız, formerly with the Türkiye and Taraf dailies, over a news report on two Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members and claimed they spied on behalf of Iran. Ms. Yıldız built the story on a letter received by Türkiye from an anonymous source. The story is based on a letter received by Türkiye from an anonymous source. According to the article, bugging devices were found in the office of the YTB at the building of the Prime Ministry in Ankara eight months ago. Police officers from the Ankara Police Department who investigated took steps to identify the individuals to whom the devices were transmitting. The investigation revealed that the individuals who planted the bugging devices were two women -- co-founders of the AK Party, which was established on Aug. 14, 2001, who are still active members. The daily did not name the two women. The prosecutors are accusing Yıldız of "violating privacy." reported daily Today's Zaman.

As the world has been watching, liberty in journalism in Turkey is struggling. More importantly, since Gezi demonstrations Turkey's mainstream media outlets have been deaf, blind and mute. They are acting totally ignorant if they are not supportive to government's attacks. They are not questioning what's going on and what would be the next in independent journalism in Turkey! Whereas, as Warren Buffet says, "The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is." The Turkish government must understand that the press is not the enemy. A truly free press can reflect our collective consciousness, be a collective educator and organize the masses. And I say, "The freer the journalists are, the more democratic society is."

For more Arzu Kaya-Uranli click here.