The NUJ joined the International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) and their affiliate the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) in calling for press freedom in Turkey following the election. The call was made following the surprise victory of the Justice and Development party (AKP) in Sunday’s general election and the continuing attacks by the government on critical media.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels this week Anthony Bellanger the newly appointed IFJ general secretary said: “Before Sunday’s elections, to be a journalist in Turkey wasn’t easy but now it will be even more difficult. Turkey was the biggest prison for journalists in Europe with around 20 journalists still held in prisons to date. Journalists should never be jailed for doing their job. It is time for intergovernmental organisations to take action against countries that do not respect journalists’ rights.”
Ugur Güç, TGS president said: “Eighty per cent of the people in Turkey access news solely through television, which is controlled either directly or indirectly by the AKP. Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has acted to take control of critical media and silence opposition voices. It started first with the take-over of media owned by Cem Uzan, followed by those owned by Dinç Bilgin and the financial institution TMSF giving AKP control over newspapers like Sabah and ATV. The most recent example was the abrupt take-over of Koza Ipek media only days before the election.
“While there are fewer journalists in jail, hundreds of trials are still pending against journalists, many of them for allegedly insulting the president. Today, we cannot pretend that the media are free anymore. Journalists are afraid of quoting the name of president Erdogan because they could be prosecuted for it. The president has built an empire of fear and oppression for press freedom fighters.
“The AKP government will probably try to change the current media law to make it more oppressive for journalists, to make it easy to fire them and harder for them to defend their rights within a trade union.”
Gökhan Durmus, head of TGS Istanbul branch, explained how the government used economic threats to control media owners. He said: “Many media owners have investments in a wide range of businesses. If their media criticises the government, it puts all their other assets at risk. How can we explain the success of the AKP on 1 November? The fear factor and economic instability have played a big role for the electorate. After the attack in Ankara on 10 October, people were afraid of gathering in public spaces.”
The speakers agreed European journalists have an important role to play to make the trade unions’ voices heard. The briefing was organised in as part of a campaign to support Turkish journalism, which receives support from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Program managed by the European Commission.
Criticisms of the poll by the international election observations mission that monitored the election and expressed serious concerns over the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and attacks on press freedom have been dismissed by the authorities.
In a section on the media their report on preliminary findings and conclusions states: “The Constitution and the legal framework do not sufficiently guarantee freedom of expression. In particular, unclear provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Law and Press Law, and criminal provisions on insult of the president were excessively applied during the election period.Criminal investigations were launched against dozens of journalists, social media users and media outlets. Some of the investigations resulted in the seizure of several outlets.
A ban on reporting on any matter related to the investigation of the Ankara bombing, de facto criminalized reporting on issues of public concern.39 Journalists reported to IEOM observers that cases of violence against them and attacks on media outlets has resulted in an increase of self-censorship…”
Details of the Council of Europe (PACE) report may be found at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/turkey/196351?download=true