Public opinion on press freedom
One of the themes Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been most frequently emphasizing recently is the view that “They have cleared the obstacles before the freedom of press and have carried it to advanced standards.” There are many examples where the PM reiterates this theme in his various speeches.
Well, to what extent does the public opinion share this view that Erdoğan strongly expresses? Let’s try to answer this question with concrete data based on certain opinion polls conducted recently.
The first one we will refer to is the “August 2013, Turkey’s Pulse” survey by the company Metropoll. It was conducted between 14 and 20 August by talking to 1,215 people on the phone in 31 provinces, with an error margin of 2.8. This question was asked to participants: “Do you think the government intervenes in televisions and newspapers?” The answers are as follows:
Yes, I do: 55.8 percent
No, I don’t: 37.1 percent
No opinion/no answer: 7.1 percent
When the distribution of the respondents according to which party they voted for in 2011 June elections, it is noteworthy that 37.4 percent of the respondents who have voted for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) think that there is an intervention in the press. Those participants who are supporters of AK Party and who have said “no” are 55.1 percent.
The percentage of those who think there is an intervention in the press go up to 85.4 percent among those who have voted for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), 70 percent among Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters and 66.2 percent among Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) voters. Here, of course, the most meaningful result is that more than one third of the AK Party electorate (37.4 percent) thinks that the government intervenes in the media.
Metropoll has searched for answer with similar questions in its previous surveys also. For example in a survey conducted in March 2011, the question, “Do you think journalists and writers can freely express their views without reservations” was answered “Yes” by 49.6 percent and “No” by 43 percent with 7.4 percent without an idea or answer.
In a survey done in April 2013, the question, “Do you think the pressure over freedom of the press and over journalists and writers is increasing?” was answered “Yes” by 54.6 percent, “No” by 33 percent. Some 12.3 percent either did not have an opinion or an answer.
Actually, there is a significant consistency in the opinion polls conducted at three different dates; the answers given to questions that are close to each other content-wise have a small increase rate with an upward curve.
Let’s check this data with other data from another research company. The company Konsensüs, in a survey it has carried out each December between 2009 and 2012 asked “Is there pressure applied on media organs?” They have conducted phone interviews with 1,500 people, with an error margin of 2.45 percent. The “Yes” answers are, starting in Dec. 2009 and ending in 2012, in these ratios: 65.2 percent, 67.3 percent, 68.9 percent and 69.3 percent. The “No” answers are 34.8 percent, 32.7 percent, 31.1 percent and 30.7 percent.
As can be seen, also in this company’s survey, the perception that there is pressure over the freedom of the press has increased consistently from 2009 to 2012.
Let’s compare the surveys of these two research companies with a survey conducted by a university. In the last one of the opinion polls Kadir Has University conducts every year, the one which was released last February, the perception of press freedom was again surveyed. The fieldwork was done Dec. 26, 2012 and Jan. 6, 2013 and 1,000 people were questioned in 26 provinces.
It was asked to the participants whether they agree with the statement, “In Turkey, the press is free.” In the 2011 survey, 38.5 percent agreed; while in the 2012 survey, this group went down to 28.8 percent. Those who did not agree with the “Press is free” statement were 41.8 percent in 2011; this figure went up to 47.9 percent in 2012. The ratio of those who say they either agree or disagree went up from 19.7 percent to 23.3 percent. This survey also demonstrates that the ratio of those who think press freedom has gone back has increased.
As a result, when all three surveys are read together, we can say that as a common denominator the majority of the society appears to perceive the press as not free.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept. 19. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.