“Although many in the West present Turkey as a role-model for the ‘Arab Spring’ countries, Ankara’s freedom of the press record gets worse and worse each day,” writes Emre Kizilkaya, foreign news editor at the Turkish dailyHürriyet, in his recent analysis for a web portal specialised in monitoring media developments in Turkey,www.turkeypressfreedom.org, run by the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), in cooperation with the Slovenia-based International Media Center (IMC).
“The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing 94 national and local journalist associations in Turkey, emphasizes that Ankara presents one of the worst press freedom pictures in Europe,” writes Kizilkaya.
According to a recent report by news website Bianet.org, issued on 19 March 2012, 104 journalists remain detained in Turkish prisons after Istanbul’s 16th High Criminal Court released journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sık, and Oda TV writers Coskun Musluk and Sait Cakır on 12 March 2012. Their trial is pending.
“I welcome the release of the four journalists,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic, who also noted that many other journalists remained in prison.
SEEMO Board Member Radomir Licina, Senior Editor of the Belgrade-based Danas daily, writes: “Being a journalist is a rather insecure and challenging job in many parts of the world today, but Turkey undoubtedly leads the way in Europe in this respect, together with Russia and Belarus. Depressing figures prove that Turkey is one of the most unfriendly and most difficult environments for the work of local journalists.
“Our colleagues in Turkey are waging a very important battle for freedom of expression in this country which aspires to join the family of European democracies in the European Union. The response, and a show of solidarity of colleagues worldwide, have not been satisfactory so far…. It is necessary that all the media organisations rally to help our colleagues and their media by way of setting up a committee of reputable journalists and editors with a clear objective to pursue every possible legal avenue to amend the laws and practices in Turkey, and thus set free innocent journalists, make their persecution cease and enable normal online communication,” states Veran Matic, President of the Board of Directors, RTV B92, Belgrade, Serbia.
Book author, journalist and ombudsman for Hürriyet, Faruk Bildirici, reflects on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s possible motives behind the pressure on journalists: “The media did not help him become the prime minister. On the contrary, he got political power despite the media of that time. He has never forgotten that and never hesitated to express that openly.”
Other contributors underline that Ankara aspires to join the European Union but fails to meet the expected democratic standards.
“The EU cannot accept this behaviour from Turkey. Imprisoned journalists have to be released or tried before court. Imprisoned journalists have a right to a fair trial. If Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union, the Turkish government has to respect press freedom and the EU has to be firm in regard to this issue,” according to Janne Virkkunen
Editor-in-Chief of Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, and former Chairman of the International Press Institute (IPI).
On the other hand, Turkey fails as role model for the Arab world: “Young democratic Egyptians, Syrians and Iranians would like to admire Turkey for its achievements. But can they any longer? A country, a government that fiddles with press freedom can never truly and convincingly be a model, cannot be a respected negotiator, and cannot be a widely accepted go-between. And, of course, cannot be a member of the EU,” states Fredy Gsteiger, Diplomatic Correspondent of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, and a former IPI Board Member.
Just as concerned with Turkey’s failure to act as a role model is Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief, of the Kosovo daily, Koha Ditore:“…negative trends in Hungary and Turkey give a very bad example to all other EU aspiring countries of South East Europe, by providing our local authorities, throughout our region, with justification for limiting and infringing on free speech and freedom of the media.”
It is important to keep supporting the efforts of Turkish journalists, according to SEEMO Board President Boris Bergant, former Deputy Director of Radio Television Slovenia (RTS), Ljubljana, Slovenia, and former Deputy President of the European Broadcasting Union: “We wish to support the process of democratisation in Turkey, as well as the European perspective, by closely monitoring the area of media freedom.”
Full texts written by these experts appear on the SEEMO-run website: www.turkeypressfreedom.org. In addition, this specialised webpage includes news updates and monthly reports on media developments, SEEMO and IPI statements on press freedom in Turkey, documents on media and human rights, links to specialised Turkish and international sources, various special reports, as well as exclusive statements by Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.