Mapping Media Freedom: A disastrous week for Turkish journalism

Words by Ianka Bhatia and Henrik Choy

Turkey has faced severe turmoil since last Friday’s attempted military coup. While it was ultimately thwarted, 290 people were left dead as of 18 July with many more injured. In response, the government has since cracked down on dissent and suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, with more than 50,000 people rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs.

In addition, the country has seen an increase in violations against media workers, with journalists murdered, held hostage, arrested and physically attacked, as well as having equipment confiscated or destroyed. These violations have raised concerns from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović, has said: “Fully recognising the difficult times that Turkey is going through, the authorities need to ensure media freedom offline and online in line with their international commitments.”

Worries over these freedoms have only increased since President Erdogan announced on Wednesday that Turkey would be in a state of emergency for the next three months, enabling the government to initiate arrests and investigations in response to the failed coup. 

Here are five reports from Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project that give us most cause for concern.

Journalist killed by pro-coup soldiers

15 July, 2016: Mustafa Cambaz, a photojournalist for the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, was shot and killed by soldiers during the failed coup attempt. Earlier that day, he had tweeted: “We are taking the streets following our commander-in-chief Erdogan’s call and order”. The Committee to Protect Journalists was quick to condemn the attack, with the Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator Nina Ognianova calling on “Turkish authorities to punish those responsible for killing Mustafa Cambaz to the full extent of the law”.

Military raids TV channels

15 July, 2016: Renegade members of the Turkish military seized control of several media outlets and studios throughout Turkey, taking hostages and disrupting broadcasts. In Istanbul, soldiers gained control over the Dogan Media Center, which contains multiple news outlets including Hurriyet newspaper, the English-language Hurriyet Daily News and television stations CNN Turk and Kanal D.

Hostages were also taken in Ankara, where a news anchor for state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television was forced to read a televised statement announcing the coup attempt at gunpoint. All hostages were eventually released and broadcasting resumed as normal by the morning of 16 July.

Regulatory body blocks access to news websites

17 July: Turkey’s telecommunications regulatory body, TIB, blocked access to five websites including media outlets Gazetport, Haberdar, Medyascope, ABC Gazetesi, and Can Erzincan TV. Twenty more were blocked two days later following approval from a judge.

Release of list of journalists to be detained

18 July: A pro-government Twitter user released a list of journalists who were accused of involvement in the coup and therefore subject to arrest. Journalists from both state and privately run media outlets were included on the list, which was circulated via social media at a time when public authority figures began to take measures to shut down websites that were critical of the government.

Accreditation of 34 journalists taken away

19 July: At least 34 journalists had their press credentials revoked in the aftermath of the coup. The decertifications impacted journalists from a variety of media outlets, including the daily newspaper Meydan, the liberal Taraf, Nokta magazine and Irmak TV. The Directorate General of Press and Information of Turkey stated the decertifications were done for the sake of national security in the aftermath of the coup.  

Mapping Media Freedom logged a number of threats to press freedom from Turkey over the past seven days. Here are the rest of the reports:

15 July: One hour after the first reports of the coup attempt, social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, were blocked. Access was eventually restored.

15 July:  A photographer for Hurriyet, Selcuk Samiloglu, was physically attacked by a group of men while attempting to cover clashes on the Bosphorus Bridge.

15 July: CNN Turk cameraman Ahmet Akpolat was restrained by the neck and verbally threatened by military personnel when he refused to comply with a demand to hand over a tape during a raid of the Dogan TV building in Istanbul. His camera was broken.

15 July: Three CNN Turk reporters — Goksel Goksu, Fulya Ozturk and cameraman Onur Ozel  were beaten and their equipment damaged when they tried to film developments in Taksim Square.

18 July: Several Turkish TV channels, including Halk TV, IMC TV and Hayatin Sesi TV, were temporarily blocked.

19 July: The office of Istanbul newspaper Gazetem Istanbul was vandalised by several dozen men claiming the publication had supported the failed coup.

19 July: Valentin Trushnin, a reporter for Russian TV channel REN, was revealed to be on Turkey’s “banned foreigners list” when he was taken into custody at Ataturk Airport.   

19 July: Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council canceled broadcasting licenses for 24 TV channels and radio stations due to their alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

20 July: Local police barred LeMan, a satirical Turkish magazine, from printing and distributing its newest issue, a special edition on the failed coup.

20 July: Access to Wikileaks was blocked after it released 30,000 emails from President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

20 July: The office of Meydan was searched and editor-in-chief Levent Kenez and editorial manager Gulizar Baki were arrested. They have since been released. 

21 July: Ozgur Dusunce (Free Thought) newspaper columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz and his wife Sibel Hurtas were arrested upon arrival at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Hurtas has since been released.

Mapping Media Freedom

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Children of the internet: Free speech in the digital age

(Image: Shutterstock)

(Image: Shutterstock)

Unlike any previous time in the history of the world, there is a generation growing up today with unprecedented knowledge and power at their immediate and constant disposal. Their voices cannot be silenced, they can communicate with each other instantaneously from anywhere in the world. They are children of the internet, and they are politically and socially empowered in ways that are not yet clearly understood. Increasingly defining their identities online as much as offline, net-powered Millenials are collectively reshaping social norms — defining the legacy their generation will leave society. The internet is a product of, and a critical factor in, this legacy.

For example, the internet is a key medium for personal expression. Deliberately open-access and open-source architectures that transcend national boundaries means that the online world is a place where its users become increasingly accustomed to possessing both a platform and a voice regardless of their status in society. Even where it is dangerous to criticise politicians, or to practice a faith, or to be homosexual, the internet provides shelter in anonymity and the chance to meet like-minded people. In this way, the children of the internet have access to support, advice and assistance, but also to allies. Even the most isolated human can now take action with the power of a collaborative collective rather than as a lone individual, and they do so with an attitude that has become acclimatised to unfettered freedom of speech.

For the internet generation, this translates to their political actions online and often erupts into their offline behaviour, too. Online petitions gain infinitely more traction than their pen-and-paper twins, and the more anarchic side of the internet takes no prisoners in parodying public figures, as evinced recently with the numerous revisions of the recent “beer and bingo” tax cut advertisements produced by the ruling coalition. More controversially, Wikileaks infamously released hundreds of thousands of classified government communiqués, and “hacktivist” groups such as Anonymous make their presence felt with powerful retaliations against firms and governments that they perceive to have suppressed internet freedom. Even high-security sites such as the US Copyright Office and Paypal have been targeted — civil disobedience that is symptomatic of the new, sharing internet generation that is paradoxically mindful of personal privacy and disparaging of public opacity.

For the strongest demonstration of the way this attitude and power translates, look no further than the violent reaction of a primarily young body of protesters during the Arab Spring and in Ukraine. The internet was the conduit through which popular campaigns against ruling regimes transformed into widespread civil disobedience and a full-blown political movement. Empowered with access to forms of political commentary comparatively free of governmental intervention and the ability of every protester to act as a professional journalist by virtue of a camera phone and a Twitter account, the children of the internet communicated, mobilised and acted to cast away governments from Tunisia to Yemen; Egypt twice over. They made their voices heard: not at the ballot box as previous generations might have, but in the streets of Cairo and Sana’a and the virtual spaces of Facebook and Blackberry Messenger. Small wonder then, that governments targeted and blocked social networking sites to quell dissent. In many countries the internet was shut down altogether.

Yet, the internet persevered — as John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted: “The internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it”. Despite the long running tussle between the users of the internet and governments who seek to regulate it, it remains untameable. In each instance, almost immediately after internet usage has been restricted, information has circulated about circumventing government regulations — even total shutdowns have been dodged through external satellite connections.

Powered overwhelmingly by the young, the internet is changing the way our societies are structured. Its effects upon our civilisation are poorly understood, particularly among young people who have never known a world without the internet. Ultimately, however, it has done more for individual freedom than any other development in the last half-century. It grants any person a voice with mere access to a keyboard and a broadband connection. It holds governments to account in new and innovative ways, and most crucially, it is an irreversible development. An entire generation defines itself, subconsciously, through the internet; previous such advancements came only through the invention of the printing press, radio and television. One thing is for certain — as broadband usage approaches saturation in many developed countries, we are all children of the internet now.

This article was originally posted on 2 June, 2014 at

“If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent, the TPP has you in its crosshairs”


A sign saying "trading profits over people" during a rally to protest the proposed TPP trade agreement and NAFTA Agreement on January 31, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A sign saying “trading profits over people” during a rally to protest the proposed TPP trade agreement and NAFTA Agreement on January 31, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: Shutterstock)

As President Barack Obama returns from Asia trade talks today, freedom of speech campaigners plan to deliver nearly three million signatures to the White House, gathered over recent weeks on the Stop The Secrecy website.

Freedom of expression campaigners have warned that the Transpacific Partnership trade agreement, which Obama has been negotiating with a dozen Asian governments, will have wide-reaching censorship implications.

With secret negotiations reportedly at a critical stage, campaigners have mounted a global plan to draw the attention to the role that internet providers would play in preventing the free flow of information.

The draft chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on Intellectual Property— in its current leaked version mandates signatory governments to provide legal incentives for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to privately enforce copyright protection rules.

The TPP wants service providers to undertake the financial and administrative burdens of becoming copyright cops, serving what the Electronic Frontier Foundation call “a copyright maximalist agenda”.

The agreement also proposes wide-reaching alterations to the controversial topic of copyright laws, including laws that require ISPs to terminate their users’ Internet access on repeat allegations of copyright infringement, requirements to filter all internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material, ISP obligations to block access to websites that allegedly infringe or facilitate copyright infringement, efforts to force intermediaries to disclose the identities of their customers to IP rights holders on an allegation of copyright infringement.

While this might be good news for music, film and TV companies – who have seen profits fall off the back of websites such as the Pirate Bay, but a spokesperson for Electronic Frontier Foundation warned the result could be a “cautious and conservative” internet afraid to run into draconian enforcement policies laid out under the new TPP rules.

“Private ISP enforcement of copyright poses a serious threat to free speech on the internet, because it makes offering open platforms for user-generated content economically untenable,” argue EFF.

“For example, on an ad-supported site, the costs of reviewing each post will generally exceed the pennies of revenue one might get from ads. Even obvious fair uses could become too risky to host.”

EFF also warned that ISPs take-down “ask questions later” approach to copyright infringements could give corporations too much power to remove time-sensitive user-generated content, for example a supporting video for an election campaign.

“Expression is often time-sensitive: reacting to recent news or promoting a candidate for election. Online takedown requirements open the door to abuse, allowing the claim of copyright to trump the judicial system, and get immediate removal, before the merits are assessed.”

TPP, which is currently being negotiated between the United States and a dozen major markets in Asia, It is a key plank in Obama’s much feted “pivot to Asia” and could affect up to 60% of American exports and 40% of world trade.

The US-led treaty has proposed criminal sanctions on copyright infringement and – according to EFF – could force internet service providers to monitor and censor content more aggressively, and even block entire websites wholesale if requested by rights holders.

Backed by a number of groups including Avaaz, Reddit, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Open Media International, the anti-TPP coalition is also employing guerrila marketing techniques. These include projecting campaign slogans onto key government buildings in Washington, in an attempt to draw wider attention to the secretive talks, as well as a digital banner that can be easily installed on any website.

The trade negotiations have controversially gone on largely behind closed doors – and while talks are believed to have stalled between Japan and the United States in the latest round – many countries, including Vietnam and Australia, are vociferous advocates.

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, who master-minded the release of a rare leaked chapter of the agreement in November, is adamant the deal’s worst aspects lie in its approach to intellectual property.

Speaking when the documents were first published on the Wikileaks website, he observed: “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons”

He added “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

OpenMedia’s Executive Director Steve Anderson, told Index “If the TPP’s censorship plan goes through, it will force ISPs to act as “Internet Police” monitoring our internet use, censoring content, and removing whole websites.”

OpenMedia, although based in Canada, has led the charge in co-ordinating the campaign to shed light on censorship aspects of the deal.

“A deal this extreme would never pass with the whole world watching – that’s why U.S. lobbyists and bureaucrats are using these closed-door meetings to try to ram it through. Our projection will shine a light on this secretive and extreme agreement, sending decision-makers a clear message that we expect to take part in decisions that affect our daily lives.”

This article was originally published on April 30, 2014 at

United States: Free expression constrained by cultural and political factors

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US media freedom fraying at the edges

Read our May 2017 review of threats to press freedom in the United States.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][vc_column_text]

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

Freedom of expression is generally protected in the US, but political, legal, economic and cultural factors continue to constrain this fundamental right. The First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits laws that abridge free speech, academic freedoms and the right to assemble are generally protected, and violence against journalists is rare.

National security is used excessively to justify free speech and privacy restrictions.

Revelations over the National Security Agency’s “Prism” programme, which it is claimed gives the US government powers of mass surveillance over web communications, have caused huge concern over the authorities’ attitudes to free speech and privacy.

Government transparency and accountability are also key concerns. The 1966 Freedom of Information Act and various state laws are meant to shine light on classified government documents, but many agencies do not comply with these laws or do so significantly later than mandated and with heavily redacted information. The aggressive prosecution and sentencing of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning and the pursuit of Edward Snowden highlights the Obama administration’s attitude to whistleblowers.

Beyond security and secrecy, some of the greatest challenges to freedom of expression are linked to rapid shifts in technology and online behaviour so that is for digital section. Money is also key. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case in 2010 extended first amendment rights to corporations and unions, threatening the free speech rights of individuals by diminishing the power of their voices to compete with billion-dollar industries. Although US libel laws generally protect the public interest — public figures must prove actual malice rather than mere negligence to win a suit — “Strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) sometimes silence criticism, as libel actions in the US remain expensive.

Despite these concerns, the state of free expression in the US is generally healthy.

Media Freedom

The US enjoys a free and diverse press, although aggressive political partisanship, the consolidation of media ownership and other financial troubles have threatened this freedom as traditional institutions struggle to stay afloat and adapt to an increasingly digital media landscape. Local and national newsrooms have shrunk, and reporters are overstretched , diminishing the quality of American journalism.

Laws against obscenity, indecency and profanity set out and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restrict what content can appear on free-to-air broadcasting.

Most states have shield laws that protect journalists from revealing their sources, and the Obama administration is proposing a federal shield law, But the government’s prosecution of whistleblowers has raised real concern. The accessing of Associated Press reporters’ phone records in pursuit of leaks has also been a source of alarm.

The Obama administration has been criticised for its aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers and journalists and demands for source information in cases of government secrecy. While the president did sign a Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act into law in late 2012, the behaviour of the authorities when confronted with leaks has been heavy handed.

Meanwhile, physical attacks by police against journalists and bloggers covering the Occupy movements hurt the US’ ranking in several press freedom indices in 2012.

Digital Freedom

About 75 percent of the population is online, but affordable high-speed broadband remains elusive. Copyright legislation and surveillance currently represent some of the greatest threats to digital freedom of expression.

The latest Google Transparency report shows that the US requests more user data than any other country and issues the second most court orders for content removal behind Brazil. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) criminalises the circumvention of copyright controls online without regard for how users intend to use the tools. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) were shelved in 2012 following highly publicised website blackout campaigns by internet activists and web companies, but intellectual property rights remain a concern with secret negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on-going. Efforts are also underway to reform the 1986 Electronic Communications and Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows the government to access private emails older than 180 days without warrant.

PATRIOT Act provisions and the fact that US telecommunications companies comply with millions of government requests for user data have given Americans cause to self censor their electronic communications. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA)[1], which passed through the House of Representatives twice but stalled in the Senate, would have compounded the threat of self censorship by granting companies greater immunity to share private user data with secretive government agencies. In June, it was revealed that the government has been secretly collecting the call records of Verizon customers under the PATRIOT Act and that the National Security Agency can access the servers of Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and others to monitor users’ video calls, search histories, live chats, and emails. Concern is also growing over how domestic drones used for surveillance will affect individuals’ privacy] and how American web companies are in a sense privatising censorship through terms of service that restrict freedom of expression.

Artistic Freedom

The First Amendment protects artistic freedom in the US, but fear of offence still motivates censorship and self-censorship. Nudity, pornography, obscenity and religious sensitivity are among the most common reasons visual art is censored from public space in the US. Censorship typically occurs at the gallery level where art is removed in response to controversy rather than through legal mandate. Donor funding can also dictate the type and content of art displayed. A US university removed a controversial climate change sculpture without warning in May 2012 when it upset a major donor from the energy industry. High sensitivity to political correctness and concerns about marketability sometimes lead artists to self-censor what they produce, and donor funding often dictates the type and content of art that is displayed. A growing trend of online crowdsourced funding for the arts is helping to overcome this barrier for specific projects.

Controversial books are still removed from or kept out of local public libraries across the country — in March 2013, for example, the Chicago public schools authority demanded the graphic novel Persepolis be removed from its classrooms — and music is regularly stripped of violent references  and profanity at stores and on radio due to private decisions or Federal Communications Commission mandates.

Increasingly strict copyright laws keep much art out of the public domain despite relatively liberal fair use provisions. Due to copyright extensions, which now extend to 70 years after the creator’s death, many creative works originally due to enter the public domain this year will not do so until 2052.

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