Journalism is under threat in Turkey, as the number journalists who have been left unemployed or have faced prosecution has dramatically increased in recent years, according to a meeting organized by the Turkish Journalists' Association (TGC), Turkish Writers' Union (TYS), PEN Turkey, Turkey's Contemporary Journalists' Association (ÇGD) and Turkish Publishers' Association.
The meeting was held in Istanbul on Jan. 9 to mark the Working Journalists' Day, which is celebrated on Jan. 10 of each year to honor the rights of media workers in Turkey. It said that the number of unemployed journalists in the country reached 11,157, whereas approximately 12,000 journalists stood trial between 2003-2018, citing Justice Ministry figures, according to Diken news site.
The meeting titled “Journalism at the Clamp of Unemployment and Censorship” said that 3,804 journalists' press cards were cancelled in the last five years, and currently 91 journalists are imprisoned.
“The unemployment problem has reached a very serious level. The media bosses who cannot sell their newspapers in which [real] news are not seen and can not make people watch their TV channels, are firing journalists to indemnify their losses. In addition to our 45 colleagues who were recently fired from [daily] Hürriyet for their membership to the union, many others were also fired from other newspapers,” TGC chair Turgay Olcayto told the meeting.
'Pro-government newspapers rewarded with advertising'
Olcayto said that pro-government media outlets are rewarded with state-sponsored advertising whereas others are having financial problems. He said that if a newspaper is not writing in line with the government's policies, then the Press Advertisement Institution – the authority for distributing official ads to newspapers – cuts its ads.
Olcayto said that newly established Presidency Directorate of Communication is working “as if it is the National Intelligence Organization.”
“The Presidency Directorate of Communication, which was established after the Directorate General of Press and Information [affiliated with the now abolished Prime Ministry] was closed, is working as if it is the National Intelligence Organization,” Olcayto said, referring to the situation of 685 journalists whose press cards were revoked over “national security” reason after the 2016 coup attempt.
“We are facing an understanding that tries to consider journalism as a crime and wants to see journalists as potential terrorists,” he said.
'95 percent of media under AKP control'
ÇGD's Istanbul representative Uğur Güç also took the floor during the meeting, saying that 95 percent of the media is currently under the control of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP is using the media “as a tool of manipulation and propaganda,” he said.
Halil İbrahim Özcan from PEN Turkey said as several journalists are currently suffering prosecution, they find the solution in going abroad. “It is as if there is no journalist left against whom a lawsuit has not been filed. Because of this, the number of people who live in exile [in other countries] but whose hearts beat for their own country, has been increasing day by day,” he said.
Turkish Publishers' Association chair Kenan Kocatürk said apart from journalism, the publication sector has been also going through rough times.
He compared the current crackdown on freedom of expression to that Turkey experienced in the aftermath of the September 12, 1980 military coup, during which the junta under the leadership of Kenan Evren pursued mass prosecutions against critical voices.
“Judges of civil courts of peaces are handing down decisions to ban published books. The Education Ministry is preparing reports on who can read which book. The government's board for the protection of minors from obscene publications, of whose members are not known, are declaring many classics as 'undesirable' for children,” he said.