I was intrigued by an article in last week’s Economist which was reviewing the state of Press freedom in Turkey.
Many journalists have been sacked by their employers for crossing the line in the areas that they have investigated, however, Ercan Ipekci, president of the Turkish Journalists Union, referred to the sacked ones as “ the luckier ones”. According to Reporters without Borders, Turkey is at 154th in the Press Freedom table, out of 179 ( behind Afghanistan, Iraq and Zimbabwe – also note that Azerbaijan is 156th), and state:
Freedom House describes Turkey as “Partly Free” and in their latest report, state:
“In Freedom House’s recently released Freedom in the World report, Turkey’s civil liberties rating declined this past year from 3 to 4 due to the pretrial detention of thousands of individuals—including Kurdish activists, journalists, union leaders, students, and military officers—in campaigns that many believe to be politically motivated. Most now know the figures gathered by the Committee to Protect Journalists regarding the high number of journalists imprisoned in Turkey – highest in the world. The issue of imprisoned journalists, however, in Turkey is a symptomatic issue – one that is representative of deeper issues.”
“…a cardinal problem is the attitude taken by the government and its leading figures towards journalists. For example, a quote – “There is no difference between the bullets fired and the articles written in Ankara,” Interior Minister Naim Idris Sahin said in a speech last September. Critics say this mentality lies at the heart of Turkey’s anti-terror laws and is why so many journalists are ending up behind bars. Critical journalism, or critical statements by journalists, are considered insults and are met with specific and pointed rhetorical attacks on the journalists in the statements of the country’s highest officials, or in some cases by lawsuits. In many cases, these have led to successful journalists being fired. And all other journalists know these cautionary tales. We also hear repeatedly about backchannel pressure on publishers and editors from the highest levels of the government to have controversial journalists taken off of sensitive subjects, or to have them fired. These incidents are attested by far too many journalists for them to simply be rumors. The conditions for this kind of backchannel pressure are reinforced by a media environment in which media ownership lacks diversity, and large holding companies with other economic interests control the media, making them highly vulnerable to political pressure.”
The recently issued report by Amnesty International sums up the position, excellently, and highlights some of the areas that are most-taboo:
“Freedom of expression is under attack in Turkey. Hundreds of abusive criminal prosecutions are brought every year against political activists,human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others. These prosecutions represent one of the most deeply entrenched human rights problems in Turkey today. Such cases are generally instigated against individuals who criticize the state or who express opinions contraryto official positions on sensitive issues. While there has been progress in allowing previously taboo subjects to be discussed more freely, such as criticism of the army, discussion of the position of minorities in Turkey and whether the massacres of Armenians in 1915 constitute genocide, a number of inherently problematic laws continue to be used to protect public officials from legitimate criticism and prosecute dissenting opinions on controversial issues in Turkish politics, most notably the conflict between the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdish question more broadly. The most negative development in recent years has been the increasingly arbitrary use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate activities including political speeches, critical writing, attendance of demonstrations and association with recognised political groups and organizations -in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.”
As well as not being able to discuss the Armenian Genocide, journalists steer clear of alleged Government corruption scandals, and Turkey’s covert support for the Syrian “rebels”/”terrorists” ( according to the New York Times – Ankara’s airport has become a hub for the trafficking of arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia).
This provides a continuing source of embarrassment for the “western” nations, which they carefully mask by employing a convenient “blind spot”. Turkey tries to be “all things to all men”, and “friends to all men”…and most recently has re-ignited its relationship with Israel, which was brokered through the offices of President Obama. They are becoming the fulcrum point between the “West and Israel” the Arabic Sunni-Muslim nations of the Middle East, and the Pan-Turkic nations; a potentially dangerous situation for everyone if not competently discharged. How such a cosmopolitan nation, with these grand aspirations, can have such an antipathy towards its Alevi population ( ~25% ), as well as archaic views on press freedom and an immature response to the difficulties of its own history (Armenian Genocide) does raise many questions about the usefulness and sustainability of their presence.
….and they want to be part of the conflict resolution in Artsakh?