Violations of press freedom are serious, according to EU

Violations of press freedom are serious, according to EU

Sections concerning freedom of expression and media freedoms in the European Union’s 2011 progress report on Turkey assesses developments of the past 12 months and take up more space than last year’s report.

Stefan Füle, the EU commissioner responsible for enlargement, said the EU would focus more on problems of media freedom in Turkey in response to the arrests of journalists last spring, and that these problems would be evaluated more in progress reports.

Freedom restricted in practice

In fact, the progress report repeats the paradox that had emerged about media freedoms last year. On one hand, progress in this field is mentioned. In this context, for example, the report says, “the media and the society openly and freely discuss those matters regarded as sensitive such as the Kurdish issue and the Armenian issue.”

However, the same report emphasizes “the high number of violations of freedom of expression raises serious concerns,” and “freedom of the media was restricted in practice.” It also says “the imprisonment of journalists and the confiscation of unpublished manuscripts fuelled these concerns.”

The report continues as, “A large number of cases were launched against writers and journalists writing on the Kurdish issue. Pressure on newspapers which report on the Kurdish question has continued. Journalists were convicted.” Internet bans continue, it adds.

It is also significant where the EU Commission sees the sources of the violations in the field of media freedom. The EU categorizes three reasons: first is problematic legislation; second is interpretation and application of the existing legal provisions by courts and prosecutors; the third is “political responses.”

The EU report defines these three fields as “obstacles to the free exchange of information and ideas.”

Disproportion in court decisions

If we start with legislation, the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) is seen as “highly problematic.” The report lists one by one all the articles that pose problems to press freedom (such as 214, 215, 220, 285, 288 and 314.) According to the report, “the criminal code is open to disproportionate use to limit freedom of expression.”

The Press Law and the Law on the Protection of Atatürk are listed within this group, whereas there is a stronger emphasis on the Anti-Terror Law. According to the report, the cause of concern in this law stems from “a wide definition of terrorism.” The need to revise articles six and seven of this law is openly stated in the text.

In the second group, there is “lack of proportionality in the interpretation and application of the existing legal provisions by courts and prosecutors, which leads to violations of freedom of expression.”

EU also touches the government

In the third category, political responses - in other words the attitude of the political power - is shown as one of the sources violating media freedom. The European Commission thus expresses that the troubles experienced in the field of press freedom do not only stem from legislation and court practices but also from the government.

Here, there is also reference to the negative effects of cases launched against the press by high-level government and state officials and by the military. All of these, according to the report, have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in Turkey. The referral to the “wide self-censorship” in Turkish media in this section is one of the though-provoking aspects of the report.

The EU report, just as it did last year, reminds of the tax fine imposed in 2009 against the Doğan Media Group and also states that, “In general, numerous and high fines were imposed on the media.” As in last year’s report, it repeated that there is “undue pressure” on the media.

As a result, the EU report tell us that press freedom is seen as one of the most problematic areas in Turkey in terms of global democratic values in the Western world.

* Sedat Ergin is a columnist for Daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared on Oct. 14. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.