Issue of press freedom causes loss of altitude

Issue of press freedom causes loss of altitude

In three different meetings in Washington last week, three different statements agreed on the same diagnosis: Problems experienced in press freedom are taking the democracy in Turkey backward…

1) The U.S. former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her conference at The Brookings Institution, mentioned “troubling facts” in the field of press freedom.

2) Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world since 1941, has moved Turkey in the global press freedom index from a “partially free” to a “not free” country.

3) U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Doug Frantz supported the Freedom House report and said the Obama administration “had concerns” about the situation of press freedom in Turkey.

Because I had evaluated Albright’s statements in detail in previous columns, I will focus on the other two:

In the 2014 Freedom of the Press atlas of Freedom House, Turkey is among countries such as Libya, South Sudan, Ukraine and Zambia, the status of which have been downgraded.  

While Turkey received 56 “bad points” in press freedom last year, this year its bad points went up to 62. Turkey ranked at the 134th place among 197 countries.

An interesting aspect of this year’s report is that “controlling content via ownership” is regarded as a significant issue. According to the report, economic factors can play a key role in restricting media independence, as seen in the impact of ownership changes on editorial content. In this section, Turkey is counted among those countries where “press freedom was threatened by new owners at key outlets.”

The report said, “In Turkey, dozens of journalists were forced from their jobs in apparent connection with their coverage of politically sensitive issues, like negotiations between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK], the Gezi Park protests, or official corruption scandals.”

Another striking point the report brought up was the “several high-profile dismissals” occurring at daily Milliyet and similar issues taking place at daily Sabah. 

An interesting development occurred when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Doug Frantz held a press conference and supported the report in which the Obama administration was also criticized. Frantz’s statements actually reflected the praise-criticism balance, which dominated Albright’s speech at Brookings. While Frantz praised, with strong words, a series of important initiatives the government took up in the past 12 years, he stated there were issues causing concern in Washington and added, “We don’t want to see Turkey replace the old taboos with new taboos.”

He said, “There is need to have, as there once was, a vibrant, vigorous, free, and independent press in Turkey.”

Frantz stressed there was some backsliding, especially after Dec. 17, 2013, saying, “And that backsliding causes concern here in Washington with the Obama administration, because that concern is one of the reasons that I went over to Istanbul.”

Frantz also said he was worried about structural changes in the Turkish media in terms of ownership and the long-term effect of that. He said, “I saw polarization in Turkish media. So that is very troubling. And equally troubling, losing your job for doing your job is wrong. That is certainly something we tried to convey to Turkey as friends and partners.” 

The conclusion we are to draw from this is that there is a consensus in Washington, at every layer, from the administration to think tanks, from Congress, to the press that matters related to freedom of press in Turkey are not going well.

Only four or five years ago such a strong consensus being reached in Washington on this issue could not even be imagined.

No doubt, this vision is converted to the democracy record of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as a negative point.