Defamation suits, arrests of journalists threaten Turkey’s democracy: IPI

Defamation suits, arrests of journalists threaten Turkey’s democracy: IPI

Defamation suits, arrests of journalists threaten Turkey’s democracy: IPI

Over 80 people, including journalist Can Dündar (R) and former Miss Turkey Merve Büyüksaraç (L) have testified in defamation lawsuits filed by President Erdoğan.

Defamation suits and arrests targeting journalists threaten Turkey’s democracy, a special report released March 27 by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) has concluded.

The report, titled “Democracy at Risk,” draws on information collected during numerous IPI visits to the country over the last four years, including meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and other top leaders last fall during a press freedom mission conducted jointly with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Turkish authorities’ failure to safeguard – and, in some cases, their active steps to undermine – the right to share and receive information has led to serious deficiencies in the country’s democracy, placing its future at serious risk, according to the report. 

The report highlights and contextualizes major press freedom developments in Turkey since 2003, when Erdoğan, heading the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), took power as prime minister. 

It also identifies broad threats to press freedom, as well as the responses of Erdoğan, Davutoğlu and other officials when questioned directly about those threats.

Those threats, according to IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis, the report’s author, include economic pressure on media outlets, a toxic political climate, manipulation of the legal framework, pressure on online speech and ongoing impunity for attacks on journalists. 

“Turkey has seen increased pressure on the media in recent years, part of a drift toward authoritarianism that has led to a pervasive climate of self-censorship and one of the most troubling press freedom pictures in Europe,” Ellis wrote. 

The report stressed the need to reform Turkish laws and improve the democratic standards of its governance, citing recent arrests and lawsuits targeting scores of people including journalists for insulting public officials, particularly Erdoğan.

No change in attitude, behavior

“As Turkey approaches parliamentary elections in June 2015, it does so amid an overall erosion in respect for human rights, including free expression and media freedom. Unfortunately, absent a fundamental change in attitude and behavior by those in power, the corresponding weakening of democracy, a cycle which appears to both sustain and increase itself daily, is one for which there is no immediate end in sight,” the report said.

Kadri Gürsel, a columnist for daily Milliyet and the chair of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, praised the report and pointed to the need for Turkey’s leaders to heed its recommendations.

“In this highly informative, elaborate and objective report, IPI is not only telling us why journalism in Turkey is in its current agonizing state and how it has gotten there,  but is also showing the ways to get out of it,” Gürsel said. 

The report is being released in connection with IPI’s 2015 World Congress and 64th General Assembly in Myanmar, which runs March 26-27. 

The Vienna-based IPI is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to furthering and safeguarding press freedom, promoting the free flow of news and information and improving the practices of journalism. Formed in 1950 at Columbia University by 34 leading editors from 15 countries on the belief that a free press would contribute to the creation of a better world, IPI today includes members in more than 120 countries and holds consultative status with the Council of Europe.