Turkey – Jailer of Journalists

Press Freedom in Turkey

Turkey’s press freedom is in crisis because along with the main stream media, Internet-the only free space is also at risk.   

By- Bhavya Chaturvedi

Republic of Turkey is a Middle eastern country commonly known as Turkey. The country has a special geographical location because it is a part of two continents Asia and Europe. While major part of the country is in Asia, a small part lies in south-eastern part of Europe. Because of the unique location, it acts both as a barrier and bridge between both the continents.

The country has struggled to become a true democracy and so has the country’s Media. The current president of the country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan from The Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) is called an authoritarian. He has also been the prime minister of Turkey three times before he became president for the first time in 2014 and then again in 2018. He was the first directly elected president of Turkey.

In Erdogan’s first term as president a coup was attempted in Turkey in the summer of 2016 overnight between 15 and 16 July. The coup was against the president and his party who were believed to be damaging the democracy of the country. The incident led to a lot of damage with death of 266 people.

This incident further worsened the condition of media in the country. All the people who were suspected to be involved in the coup were detained including the journalists. As many as 120 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey in 2016. Around one third of all the imprisoned journalists were in Turkey. More than 100 media outlets were closed and thousands of Journalists lost their jobs.

Similar kind of Media Freedom violation was seen in Turkey in 2013 at the time of huge protests in Istanbul against Gezi Park destruction. Even at that time more than 100 journalists were imprisoned and thousands lost their jobs for criticizing the government. These figures show that not just the right to free press but also free speech has curbed in the country several times.

Imprisonment of Journalists in Turkey is a very common practice. It is known as world’s biggest jailer of journalists. While the Turkish constitution gives journalists a number of rights, in reality there is no free press. Judicial independence is lacking for press in Turkey since a very long time. Press freedom has been in crisis as most of the main stream media is in governments control.

The most influencing news medium of Turkey is Television. Pro government outlets dominate Print and Broadcast media. The Biggest media group of the country – Demiroren which owns the popular newspapers Hurriyet Posta and CNN Turk are government favoring. Government criticism is close to zero in the mainstream media but some difference could be seen on the internet. Although, a huge part of the country’s population (83%) was online by 2019 (as per Internet World Stats), Turkey was not free on net as a per 2018 (Freedom House Report) report.

Websites and page regarding ‘terrorism’ (as per the government) are banned by the court every now and then. Things have become worst since the new social media law was introduced. Internet is the only place where some form of independent journalism could be practiced but with the new law, this space is also at risk. As per the new law’ government can remove any content for social media platforms in place of just blocking them. The government has also asked social media platforms to appoint a local representative to help the government. Fines were introduced for the platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc. which did not provide a representative. This law was approved in July 2020 by Turkish Parliament.

The new social media law gives the government complete control over flow of Information. This growing authoritarianism has made the idea of free journalism and media more and more difficult with each passing day.  Various means have been used by the government from jailing journalists to changing legislations in a way that makes it difficult for media houses to operate freely.

In the beginning of October 2020 around 77 journalists were in jail. Turkey ranks 154 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom ranking 2020. Although this rank is three spots higher than 2019 ranking which was 157, media freedom is still at high risk.