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Journalism in Turkey: Between Censorship and Self-Censorship
161 Turkish journalists are imprisoned. Their free colleagues are facing repression. Censorship and self-censorship have become part of everyday life, fear and pressure are on the rise, Turkish journalists report.
The Turkish journalist Bahadir Özgür has worked in the Turkish media for 12 years. He recently gave up his job. “When Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in January gave directors and media representatives of major newspapers and television stations a 15-point plan as a guideline for reporting the military offensive in Syria, the moment had come for me to make up my mind. I read through these 15 points and found that they did not even meet the minimum standards for journalism. I would not have been able to work under these conditions. So I quit,” says Özgür.
His then employer, the largest media company in Turkey, the Dogan Group, was sold to the Demirören Group a few weeks ago. It is known for its proximity to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This was also a trigger for some journalists to change employers or give up their jobs.
Millions in fines for investigative stories
According to Özgür, reporting on “certain” issues has become impossible since 2002, when Erdogan’s AKP party came to power. As an example, he cites a case he experienced during his time with the business magazine “Referans”. His colleagues had researched an investigative story that investigated the question of how the families of some AKP members of parliament could suddenly become successful businessmen.
After the publication of this history the magazine received a tax fine at a value of 6,8 million Lira (1,5 million euro). Since then it has become difficult according to Özgür to write reports on interdependencies between economics and government members.
Warnings by Whatsapp
Another Turkish journalist who works for a national station and doesn’t want to be mentioned by name explains what censorship looks like: “Sometimes the editors or reporters get an e-mail, a phone call or a message by whatsapp, in which the most popular sentence at the moment is written, namely ‘We’ve already got enough of this message’. After this message the battle begins with one’s own bad conscience. One turns to the superior, well aware that this will not change anything. But at least one keeps one’s own ability to think critically.”
Self-censorship like a virus
Another journalist who talks to us also works in the so-called mainstream media. He doesn’t want to mention his name either. In his opinion, Turkish journalists have now internalised self-censorship to such an extent that they no longer address some topics or prefer to avoid certain expressions when writing an article. He and his colleagues would have a “sense” for topics that the government would not like. They would not deal with them either.
“Self-censorship spreads like a virus,” he says. “Whether you’re an editor or a director, once you’re in a national broadcaster, you’re in a restricted area.” If a report critical of the government goes online “by mistake”, the editor in charge either gets a reminder or is fired directly, he says.
Since the beginning of the year, a total of 520 lawsuits have been filed against journalists. According to a survey by the Susma platform (non-silence platform) on censorship and self-censorship in Turkey, 54 percent of respondents believe that it is now impossible to write an article without censoring oneself. 96 percent claim that trials against journalists lead to journalists and authors censoring themselves. 186 people were interviewed.
Taboo topics for journalists
An online editor who also wants to remain anonymous complains about the so-called “red lines” in the Turkish media landscape. “Between the years 2007-2012 the Gülen movement was not allowed to be reported on. Since 2012 there have been critical reports about Erdogan,” says the journalist of an online portal. In recent months, the operation “olive branch” of the Turkish armed forces in Afrin, the possible opposition leader in the upcoming parliamentary elections, protests against nuclear power plants or cases of corruption have become the red lines that better not be reported on. Reporting on critical issues depends on the willingness of individual journalists or their media houses to take risks.
Turkey (officially Türkiye Cumhuriyeti (T.C.), German Republic of Turkey) is a democratic republic in Near East and Southeast Europe. Since its foundation in 1923, the unitary state has been characterized by secularism and Kemalism; after the First World War it became the successor state of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey extends geographically over two continents, Europe and Asia. Although it is mainly located in the Near East, the European Eastern Trakia is also part of its territory. Thus it has control over the Bosporus, the access to the Black Sea. Due to its strategic position, Turkey has great influence in the region and in the Middle East. Most Turks live in the Asian western half of the country. The east and southeast of the Anatolian highlands are Kurdish areas.
Turkey’s economic situation is still very contradictory. There is a very large gap between the industrialized West (especially the large metropolises) on the one hand and the agriculturally structured and underdeveloped East on the other. Since 3 October 2005, Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union have been in progress, with interruptions. However, these are currently (2017) on hold due to Turkey’s current development.
Tourism plays an important role for Turkey. In 2014 there were about 41 million visitors, four million of them from Russia. German tourists led the statistics with around 5 million visitors. In 2016, tourism figures fell by a third due to the political situation.
In general, travelers in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities in Turkey are advised to be more cautious. Political tensions, violent clashes and terrorist attacks can be expected throughout the country. Travel to the border region of Turkey with Syria and Iraq, in particular to the cities Diyarbakır, Mardin, Cizre, Silopi, Idil, Yüksekova and Nusaybin as well as generally to the provinces Şırnak and Hakkâri is strongly discouraged.