Blocking ruling “another reminder of just how far from being a democracy Turkey really is”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship strongly condemns a decision by a Turkish court to block 135 sites, accounts and videos, and calls for the order to be reversed.

Initially, the order contained independent news outlet Bianet “by mistake”, according to a statement posted to the organisation’s site. While Bianet is no longer subject to the ruling, the blocking of such a large body of information is unacceptable.

“Media freedom is the hallmark of a democracy. This latest action is another reminder of just how far from being a democracy Turkey really is”, Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said.

The Ankara court said the decision — taken after a police request — would protect “national security and public order”. The use of national security law to stifle legitimate speech and dissent is a well-trodden path for the Turkish state: As of 2 August, there were at least 138 journalists and media workers in prison; thousands of academics are facing trial for signing a petition calling for peaceful negotiations. 

“Turkey’s use of security legislation is a reflection of the increasing authoritarian tendencies of President Erdogan,” Ginsberg said.

Based in Istanbul, Bianet publishes articles on human rights, violence against women and trials linked to freedom of expression in Turkish, English and Kurdish. 

This statement was updated on 8 August 2019 to include new information about Bianet.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”98654″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Turkish journalists face unprecedented surge of physical assaults

  • In Turkey, the government uses national security and terror legislation to censor journalists.
  • Arrests, detentions and trials of media workers are frequent.
  • Index on Censorship’s Monitoring and Advocating Media Freedom project documented seven assaults in Turkey in May, and another one in June 2019.

Turkey’s freedom of the press was curbed after the attempted military coup in July 2016, when over 150 media outlets were shut down.
Many journalists working in Kurdish territory were subject to physical violence and threats, and Rohat Aktaş, a journalist who covered the Kurdish-Turkish conflict in the town of Cizre, was killed.

Though physical assaults on media workers have become rare in recent years, a recent surge has raised concerns about the continuing pressure on media professionals in the country.

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Yavuz Baydar: Imminent collapse of journalism in Turkey

Prague, Czech Republic. 4th February 2013 -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures during a press conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas (not pictured) at government headquarters in Prague. -- Prime Minister of Czech republic Petr Neas has expressed support for Turkeys bid to join the EU, in a visit by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

February 4, 2013. Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a press conference in Prague.

With conditions worsening on a daily basis, Turkey now risks total blackout on public debate.

Punitive measures and harsh restrictions have diminished the domain for free and independent journalism, and media pluralism is showing strong signs of total collapse.

As Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project highlights in its latest quarterly report, the country experienced a large number of media freedom violations.  

“Over half of the arrests [in the first quarter of 2016] occurred in Turkey when journalists were reporting on violence or protests in the country,” the report said. “The data indicates a pattern where arrests are launched on terror charges or taking place during anti-terror operations.”

In its latest World Press Freedom Index, scrutinising media in 180 countries, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey as #151, marking yet another fall, this time by two positions.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on an offensive against Turkey’s media. Journalists are harassed, many have been accused of ‘insulting the president’ and the internet is systematically censored,” RSF said in its findings.

The decline was even more dramatic in the annual Freedom of the Press 2016 survey by Freedom House. Its survey over the past year marked a fall by six points, placing Turkey as 156th among 199 countries, again among those as “not free”.

The government, controlled by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), aggressively used the penal code, criminal defamation legislation, and the country’s antiterrorism law to punish critical reporting, and journalists faced growing violence, harassment, and intimidation from both state and non-state actors during the year. The authorities continued to use financial and administrative leverage over media owners to influence coverage and silence dissent,” it concluded.

This downfall is unprecedented in intensity. The country’s remnant core of brave, free and independent journalists, regardless of their political views, now agree that free journalism will soon cease to exist in Turkey. With full-frontal attacks on the media, the sector may become subservient to the political and bureaucratic power, with content rife with stenography and propaganda.

Legal inquiries and charges against journalists are continually on the rise. According to the ministry of justice, the number of “insulting the president” cases passed 1,800 since mid-2014.

In other cases, such as the charges brought against Cumhuriyet daily, its editors Can Dündar and Erdem Gül are accused of spying and treason, for printing news stories about lorries carrying weapons, allegedly to Syrian jihadist groups, by the government’s orders.

In another notorious case, investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu has been detained for over 13 months over his inquiries into the alleged abuses of power within the military.

In a fresh case, two senior journalists from Cumhuriyet, Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Çetinkaya, were sentenced to two years each in prison for “inciting hatred”. Their “crime” was to reprint the Charlie Hebdo front page cartoon in their column, which they said was an act of professional solidarity.

According to Bianet, a monitoring site, there are now 28 journalists in Turkish prisons, many of whom are affiliated with the Kurdish media, based on charges brought under anti-terror laws.

The draconian nature of charges and prison sentences leave little doubt about AKP government’s intent to criminalise journalism as a whole.

Punitive measures against journalism go far beyond court cases. The most efficient method has proven to be firing journalists who insist on exercising basic standards of the profession.

Since mid-2013, following Gezi Park protests, 3,500 journalists have lost their jobs. Media moguls have come under increasing pressure from the government, which demands action or threatens to cancel lucrative public contracts. Taking advantage of the low influence of trade unions (fewer than 4% of journalists are members), employers axe staff arbitrarily. 

As a result of this widespread exercise in conglomerate-dominated “mainstream media”, with newsrooms turned into “open-air prisons”, self-censorship in Turkey has become a deeply rooted culture. Blacklists have been drawn up of TV pundits and columnists in the press, who are known for critical stands, no matter their political leaning.

What apparently weighed heavy in the gloomy figures by Index on Censorship, RSF and FH is the fact that, from early last year, authorities started also targeting large, private media institutions, known for critical journalism.

Hürriyet, an influential newspaper belonging to Doğan Media was attacked by a mob two nights in a row last summer, after which its owners felt they had to “tone down” critical content.

In even more dramatic cases, Koza-Ipek Media outlets were raided by the police last autumn, followed some months later by a similar large-scale operation against Zaman Media, second largest group in the sector, and the largest independent news agency, CHA.

These seizures, along with some other critical channels yanked off satellite and digital platforms in recent months, left a huge vacuum, threatening to terminate the diversity of the media.

Now, with around 90% of the sector under direct or indirect editorial control of the AKP government, including the state broadcaster TRT, there are only three critical TV channels and no more than five small-scale independent newspapers left.

As a result of these assaults, two things are apparent: firstly, investigative journalism is blocked and news is severely filtered; secondly, with diversity fading out, public debate, a key aspect of any democracy, is severely limited.

Along with routine bans on reporting on specific events such as terror attacks, severe accreditation restrictions and a newly emerging pattern of deporting international media correspondents, the conclusion is inevitable.

A profession faces extinction and along with its exit, and a thick wall between the truth and the public, both domestic and international, is emerging. This total collapse will have far deeper consequences than anyone can imagine.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.

Assaults against journalists rise in Turkey

Photo illustration: Shutterstock

Photo illustration: Shutterstock

Since the beginning of this year, cases of assault against journalists, legal threats and lay offs worsened Turkey’s already precarious state of press freedom.

In May, Freedom House ranked Turkey’s media climate “not free.” The Istanbul-based non-profit news website Bianet publishes quarterly media monitoring reports on press freedom breaches within Turkey. Along with new fines against media outlets and other ominous restrictions, the most recent report shows that physical assault against journalists increased over the last three months. According to the new report, 54 journalists were victims of assault between April and June. Bianet’s previous report documents “at least” 40 accounts between January and March.

Erol Önderoğlu, author of Bianet’s media reports, attributes the increased number of assaults this spring to recent demonstrations where journalists were injured. This May, protestors commemorated the first anniversary of the Gezi Park demonstrations, just a few weeks after large protests took place on May 1. Önderoğlu says police and other security officers are more prone to use violence at protests. “They think they have the right to exert a certain violence against demonstrators,” he says. Önderoğlu sees last year’s Gezi Park protests as a turning point for this kind of aggression towards journalists at demonstrations. Since then, Önderoğlu says, police officers became the main source of violent assault against journalists.

At May 1 protests in Istanbul, at least twelve journalists were injured while reporting. One editor for the news website t24 was detained by police for hours. Violence against journalists erupted again during the Gezi commemorations this year. While reporting live from the protests, CNN correspondent Ivan Watson was harassed by plainclothes security officers who demanded to see his passport. Watson and his crew were then detained and Watson tweeted that he was kneed while in police custody.

Many journalists don’t file legal complaints after they’ve been assaulted. According to Önderoğlu, especially journalists working for mainstream news outlets feel their own jobs may be threatened if they speak out against police. “They have this feeling that by condemning civil servants and police officers for using force, they are in a way putting the board and the directors of their own media organization in a bad position,” Önderoğlu says, adding that because of the lack of editorial independence in Turkey, conflicts with government can lead to journalists being fired. Earlier this year, the extent of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s influence over some media organizations was revealed by leaked phone conversations between Erdoğan and the owners of media outlets, including the newspaper Milliyet and broadcaster Habertürk.

The journalists Ahmet Şık, Onur Erem and Ender Ergün did file a complaint over abuse of authority after being assaulted during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Six months later, their cases were rejected by an Istanbul prosecutor. Bianet reported that 153 journalists were injured during the Gezi Park protests. There still has not been an investigation into those injuries, and Önderoğlu sees the rejection of Şık, Erem and Ergün’s cases as a bad precedent for assaulted journalists seeking justice. “We need not only the stop of police aggression,” Önderoğlu says, “but also the end of impunity against policemen of such accusations.”

More reports from Turkey via

Turkey: Broadcaster threatens to stop covering presidential candidate

Turkey: Physical assaults on journalists increase

Turkey: Media monitoring agency revokes license for Germany-based broadcaster

Turkey: Constitutional Court rules investigation into Hrant Dink’s assassination violated family’s rights

Turkey: Prime Minister files legal complainst against newspaper editor

This article was posted on August 1, 2014 at