The sad situation of the media
Turkish journalism is passing through a very difficult period, but I don’t really recall when it wasn’t in a difficult situation. However, the current period is particularly difficult. The atmosphere of fear, intimidation and abeyance to the absolute authority has reached such a dimension that journalists, unfortunately, might steer clear of discussions where problems are discussed.
Is there a need for the editors of a newspaper taken behind bars, a senior writer beaten up or the front door broken down by a mob to show a reaction to the gross and, unfortunately, merciless offensive of the political authority on the media? I was the host of an important – for me of course – event this week. The two-year analytical presentation of the Press for Freedom project results were to be discussed at an event in Ankara. The meeting hall was packed with diplomats headed by the European Union envoy, ambassadors and top diplomats from many European and non-European countries. Among the speakers were Turkish Bar Association President Metin Feyzioğlu, FOX TV anchorman Fatih Portakal, Professor Korkmaz Alemdar and leading journalist Muharrem Sarıkaya, as well as Confederation of Turkish Journalists Association President Nuri Kalaylı – who is also the Marmara region committee chairman of the Press for Freedom Project. The pro-government media was absent. The “mainstream” media, including my paper, the Hürriyet Daily News, was absent. A media that can turn a blind eye to its own problems, suffice it to say, must be in an appalling situation.
Despite all the failure to agree in Turkey on a definition of what journalism constitutes or all the glaring remarks of the prime minister that press freedom was his “red line” and all of the “improvements” that have been made until today, the bitter truth is that while in 2014 there were 22 journalists behind bars, today 31 journalists are deprived of their freedoms.
During the meeting, a comprehensive report detailing the curbs on freedom of press and expression was released. Obviously, figures show that Turkey is passing through a sui generis period. While in the period between March and December 2014, 77 cases were opened against journalists, in the January and November 2015 period, 157 court cases were brought against media members. As compared to 179 judicial proceedings against members of the media, in the first 11 months of 2015, 305 proceedings were brought against members of the press, showing that the situation regarding the freedom of journalists is getting worse.
In the first 11 months of 2015, media organizations were physically attacked 13 times, while there were 67 cases of physical assault on journalists, mostly from police or “civilian-looking” people.
In 2014, 10 court cases ended with the conviction of journalists, including cases in which the punishment was postponed or deferred. In 2015, the number of prison sentences handed down was 13, including those that were postponed or deferred. In the last nine months of 2014, the number of criminal complaints was 88 while this figure increased to 119 in the first 11 months of 2015, illustrating the climate of freedom in the media.
In the last nine months of 2014, 54 journalists, including six women, were arrested for varying lengths of time, while in the first 11 months of 2015, 102 journalists, including 25 women, were arrested. The increase of the number of journalists in prison from 22 in 2014 to 31 has been a worrying development.
Between March and December 2014, 330 journalists were fired as eight resigned from their jobs, while in the period between January and November 2015, 444 journalists were fired and 29 resigned.
There is no scale, so to say, to measure the existence of self-censorship, but to understand what self-censorship is or how frequently it takes place, reading the newspapers and columns and watching the news on TV channels is enough given that the stench of self-censorship smells so badly. However, the degree of self-censorship cannot be expressed in numbers. However, there are cases where censorship can be illustrated quantitatively. Between March and December 2014, scores of journalists were denied access to news sources and even from information itself under the name of accreditation on 24 occasions. Besides, the accreditation issue was covered in the report on the basis of cases. Together with the Gülen society media, Sözcü newspaper, Ulusal TV and other such opposition media outlets were also often barred from news. If that is taken into consideration, the number of journalists who were subjected to accreditation due to censorship, or denied access to the news, was obviously grotesque.
The number of sites to which access has been blocked was 42,686 up until 2013, while in 2014, this number increased by 23,558 to a total of 66,244, to which 37,633 sites were added in the first 10 months of 2015, totaling a record which will be hard to break: 103,877 sites blocked.