Turkey’s president shrugged off criticism of the country’s press freedom record, calling an American broadcaster the country “incomparably free”.
But his comments came the same month on CBS that several journalists were fighting lawsuits.
One of them – journalist and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative Errol Onderoglu – returned to court on 30 September for a trial related to his role in a 2016 solidarity campaign with Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.
“Turkey is still one of the countries with the harshest conditions for arresting journalists in Europe, if not in the world,” Ondroglu told VOA.
As well as arrests, often on charges of supporting or promoting terrorist organizations, Ondroglu said opposition journalists have problems obtaining press cards; Important TV channels are arbitrarily fined by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) regulator; And opposition newspapers have lost government advertising revenue.
But during his interview, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that US President Joe Biden did not pick up on Turkey’s behavior of journalists during private conversations between the two leaders and that Erdogan does not accept the findings of media rights groups that called for mass arrests. is documented.
“We have no problems of that nature in terms of freedom. Turkey is incomparably free,” Erdogan told CBS.
Turkey’s Directorate of Communications did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. RTUK instructed the VOA to fill out a form providing personal information such as address, date of birth and identity card number.
Media watchdogs including the RSF and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have documented hundreds of arrests or lawsuits filed against the media over the past five years.
Because of this, Ondroglu said, “Our view may not be identical to Mr. Erdogan’s understanding of media freedom and his view of critical and alternative media in Turkey. We see serious problems in the region.”
Gorkem Kinai, Turkish daily Eversale, also believes that the arrest and trial contradict Erdogan’s approach.
“The journalists’ lawsuits, newspaper fines and censorship laws reveal the government’s record on press freedom very clearly,” Kinasi told VOA via email.
Kinasi holds the position of responsible news editor Eversale, a unique role that makes him legally responsible for the content produced by his outlet.
Others, however, said Turkey’s record should be viewed in the context of a 2016 coup attempt.
Hilal Kaplan, a columnist for the Sabah newspaper and its English edition Daily Sabah, told VOA “it is necessary to look at the unique circumstances in Turkey” after the coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of more than 250 people.
Kinai, from Everencel, is one of several Turkish journalists facing legal action. He and his paper are fighting a civil defamation case filed last month over reporting on corruption allegations directed at the deputy health minister, Selahtin Aydin.
The paper later published a rebuttal from the deputy minister, as ordered by the court, but Aydin is still seeking thousands of lira in damages.
VOA emailed Aydin and the health ministry for comment, but did not receive a response.
Eversal Lawyer Devreem Awasi called the case a violation of freedom of the press and said the case was just one example of dozens of cases filed against the outlet.
“Honestly, sometimes it can be challenging to catch them all,” Awasi told VOA.
Eversale “The consequences of being an opposition newspaper have always paid off,” but it has increased after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, Awasi said.
In addition to the defamation case, Awasi said the outlet has been accused of insulting the president and inciting hatred and enmity among the public.
The lawyer said he believes the government is trying to silence Eversale By giving financial punishment. As well as legal matters that could result in fines or damages, Turkey’s Press Advertising Agency (BIK) banned the paper in September 2019 from receiving an allocation of government advertising revenue.
Under the supervision of the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications, the BIK is responsible for distributing official announcements that provide a regular source of revenue for newspapers.
The government body has the power to impose public advertising restrictions on newspapers that violate press ethics.
Media freedom advocates have said that BIK is using sanctions to suppress critical media and is not being transparent about the distribution of public funds.
When Turkey transitioned to a new presidential system in 2018, BIK ended the practice of sharing its annual reports with the public.
However details of how the body works were revealed in May when the Turkish service of Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle published details from an internal report it received.
DW reported that in 2020, pro-government newspapers received about 78% of the public money paid for official announcements, while
97% of advertising bans were issued against five opposition outlets including Cumhuriyet, Everensal and Birgun.
When VOA sent BIK an email requesting comment, it was instructed to fill out a form requesting personal information.
The number of journalists jailed in Turkey rose sharply in 2016 as authorities arrested people they said were linked to the coup attempt. Data by CPJ from the end of that year, in which media personnel were imprisoned as a direct result of their work, showed 86 journalists in custody.
Media watchers have accused Ankara of using the coup attempt on the pretext of silencing critical or opposition voices.
Kaplan, who contributes to outlets that are part of Turkuvaz Media Group, a company widely described as pro-government, believes that some people at the time covered their profession. was used as.
“In Turkey, there are people who serve a terrorist organization with their journalistic identity,” Kaplan said, referring to the Gülen movement, which Turkey blamed for the coup attempt. The group is led by a cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom President Erdogan says is the mastermind of the failed coup. The cleric, who is in self-imposed exile in the US, has denied involvement.
Kaplan said supporters of groups including the Gulenists as well as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front use their journalism as cover.
Both groups have been designated as terrorist organizations by Turkey and the United States.
This distinction, Kaplan said, is not taken into account when the watchdog condemns Turkey for jailing journalists.
“Therefore, considering all of these, I think a correct assessment, file by file, should be made. But unfortunately, without taking that into account, there is a biased view that trumps anyone who says that They’re just a journalist, a journalist, and don’t want any credibility in that sense,” Kaplan said.
The RSF’s Ondroglu, who has documented and advocated for hundreds of journalists detained or facing legal charges for their work, says media repression continues.
“The hostility to the critical press and the environment in which the critical, seeks to bring the independent media to its knees, has not ended,” Onderoglu said.