Little hope for Turkey’s press freedom

“Being a journalist is so hard and it makes us afraid.”

That’s Ecem Hepçiçekli, a student journalist from Turkey, speaking to Euroscope via email, echoing sentiments shared by many of those who work in often oppressed media outlets across the country.

Over the past few years, Turkey’s legal and political stance against the media has steadily become more oppressive as the government has introduced new laws to limit what can be revealed about the political environment.

Turkey’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) who have won three general elections since 2002, including the most recent on November 1st 2015.

Legislation in Turkey currently allows for the punishment of those who publish anything deemed detrimental to the AKP’s ideology. President Erdogan has been vocal since his election of his opposition to the European Union’s attempts to see that changed and improve press freedom.

Nate Schenkkan, director of the Nations in Transit program at Freedom House (a U.S. based independent watchdog organisation), said via email correspondence that this oppression of Turkey’s media is likely to continue following the AKP’s most recent victory.

“Being a journalist who does not toe the government line has been growing increasingly hard over the last several years, and there is no reason to think this trend is going to stop,” he said.

“This does not necessarily mean additional legislative measures that restrict the media, but nearly every week there is additional legal cases opened against journalists and media outlets.”

Can Mumay, Economy Editor for Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News, spoke to Euroscope via email and stated that pressure on media outlets can be expected to increase following the general election.

“Some journalists always fear losing their jobs,” he said.

This is especially true during times such as these, he says, because the government often uses arbitrary powers to pressure papers into taking a pro-government stance.

Ms Hepçiçekli speaks of fellow journalism students who no longer wish to pursue their chosen career because of the risks involved while those who do choose to become journalists face censorship or even jail time.

“Some journalists go to the court [to defend themselves] three to four times a week, this is normal,” she said.

“Some of them take security and they have to check [under] the car [in case] there is a bomb, or they sometimes wear bulletproof clothes.”

Even with Turkey’s harsh restrictions, she continues to be optimistic as there are still circumstances where journalists can defend their stories to the authorities and avoid penalties and she hopes that she can be one of them.

The EU has, in the past, been highly critical of Turkey’s press freedom practices and after the detention of several journalists in 2014. The European Commission released a statement condemning Turkey’s actions soon after, stating that ‘the operation goes against European values and standards’.

But according to Mr Schenkkan, from Freedom House, there are now concerns that the EU’s efforts to secure Turkey’s help with the current refugee crisis will overshadow their lack of press freedom during accession talks.

“The EU progress reports for all accession candidates are normally released in the first week of October, and the fact that they have been delayed to this week has caused rumors that they European Commission held them back in order to avoid releasing them before Turkey’s elections,” he said.

“Only one week before the election, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU should not “harp on” at Turkey about human rights when it needs help stemming the flow of migrants.”

Mr Schenkkan says that Turkey’s accession to the EU would require dramatic changes in the way media and speech are regulated in Turkey but that the relevant chapters in the accession process are yet to be opened, a step that realistically will not be taken any time soon.

“It would be a positive step for those chapters to be opened so that compliance in these areas could be the subject of more direct negotiations with the EU,” he said.

“However, at this point there is no realistic path forward for Turkey to EU membership given its current leadership and the multi-sided crisis within the EU over fiscal alignment, expansion, and migration.”


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