Press freedom day, a bad joke

Press freedom day, a bad joke

At the recommendation of its Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.N. General Assembly in 1993 proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day, which is often referred to as World Press Day or Press Freedom Day. One fundamental aim of the celebration of the day since then has been to evaluate press freedom around the world, as well as defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

For the past few years, Turkish journalist organizations have been making statements underlining the very serious threats Turkish media has been facing and lamenting that in such a country marking press freedom day would just be a bad joke. In Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index Turkey ranked 151st out of 180 countries in 2016. The situation was not much better in 2015 when Turkey ranked 149th.

Yet, the two-step retreat of Turkey on the RSF World Press Freedom Index demonstrated what Turkish journalists have been complaining about for the past many years: Systematic deterioration of the climate of freedoms as autocracy has been gradually institutionalizing itself in the country.

The “Freedom in the World 2016” and “Freedom of the Press 2016” reports by Freedom House were indeed like a summary of the situation in Turkey. As regards to the press freedom status in Turkey, like the previous year, Freedom House said Turkey was “not free,” while in regards to “freedom status” Turkey was among the “partly free” countries. The aggregate score of the climate of freedoms in Turkey was reported to be “53” with a freedom rating of just 3.5 on the scale of seven. On the same scale political rights was a lower “3” while civil liberties was at “4,” but the overall trend was claimed to be worsening.

Is it indeed possible to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in such a country? If there is anyone still saying, “Well, at least to show the importance of such a day, to demonstrate solidarity with the hundreds of journalists who were and ‘kicked out’ of their work places by court-appointed trustees in the government’s ‘clean up all opponents and critics’ campaign invigorated particularly since the November 2015 elections, I would appreciate it.” Yet, is it possible not to join the RSF’s comments that 2015 was a “black year” for the Turkish media?

It was a “black year,” but can anyone say that the first four months of 2016 were better in any sense in any field? 2015 ended with the ordeal of the Koza Group of companies; 2016 started with the TV station and the newspapers of Koza being cut off by court-appointed trustees on grounds that they were making losses. How would they not make losses? In clear violation of the freedom of the press as well as freedom of enterprise principles, Koza media establishments’ publication policies were changed, or better to say domesticated, and from being critical they were converted into nothing different than those media establishments worshipping the current political power. Why would people buy such newspapers, or why would they place their advertisements on such a TV channel?

This year witnessed the raid on the Feza publishing group, daily Zaman, Today’s Zaman and the Cihan News Agency. Zaman and Today’s Zaman lost their soul and spirit while Cihan was made a second semi-official agency, catering day and night to the propaganda of the absolute leader but rarely reporting anything newsworthy. If in few days’ time someone came up with the claim that these papers and the news agency were making losses and should be closed down as well, would it be a surprise? Unfortunately no…

In the meantime, in the first four months of the year over 750 journalists were fired and scores were compelled to resign. Could these journalists find jobs anywhere anytime soon? Most likely they were condemned to long-term unemployment and probably would have to wait for an improvement of the climate of freedom in the country.

This week there were some revelations on a blog apparently written by a pro-palace writer listing the dirty fight for power between the two current power centers of the country. Apparently a war is in the making between the president and the prime minister. Another war, which is very much related to this contest for power, has been waged inside the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

There is an old saying valid in this part of the world as well, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

Turkish media has become the suffering grass… Is anyone still willing to mark World Freedom of Press Day in Turkey? Well, I would advise that person to see a psychiatrist urgently; he must be suffering from some acute condition.