Sunday, May 3, 2009

World Press Freedom Day - Freedom of Press Turkey

Today is World Press Freedom Day. It was established in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. The theme this year is the safety of journalists and the threats they face in their work.

Facing harassment, threats of violence and physical retaliation, journalists across the world continue to dig out troubling facts, challenge the status quo and expose those who commit crimes. Day after day, journalists investigate and file reports on issues they know they could be sued or killed for. Many pay the price.
There is a wide variety of media outlets in the Turkey but it’s quite a dilemma; Turkey has a lively press and there is no overt censorship, but it remains a difficult environment for independent journalism especially because of art. 301 (here the latest) and 309.
For that reason, two months ago, The International Press Institute appealed to European Commission leaders to make press freedom a priority in ongoing membership talks with Turkey amid concern over verbal attacks on news organisations and continued legal hurdles to free expression in Turkey.

IPI and other organisations voiced concern, for example, about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s public complaints about coverage of his government, and his appeals to supporters to stop buying newspapers that, as he told one rally, "stand by others rather than stand by the prime minister of the Turkish Republic".

According the IPI "The EU can play a central role in ensuring free expression and pluralistic media in candidate countries such as Turkey". And I believe that!

But there is still widespread concern about Turkish laws used to prosecute journalists, including above mentioned Article 301, which bans insults to the Turkish state. Although amended in 2008 to reduce the jail time from three years to one, the law "risks inciting attacks on journalists by questioning their loyalty". It has been used in the past to punish journalists and intellectuals who criticized government policies, including murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink.
Article 301 remains a threat to freedom of expression in Turkey!

The European Commission’s 2008 progress report on Turkey cites Article 301, anti-terror statutes and other laws as potential infringements on free expression. A new U.S. State Department report on human rights in Turkey also notes that such laws can restrict press freedom.
Another dubious 'action' which limits freedom of press in Turkey is the unprecedented 380-million-euro fine for tax evasion imposed on the Dogan Media Group in February, Turkey’s largest media company and a frequent critic of the Erdogan government. Turkish authorities insist that the fine had nothing to do with Erdogan’s running feud over the company’s news coverage, but the timing of the fine (which came after months of criticism from the prime minister), and the potential crippling financial impact on the company raise questions.

In fact a pluralistic and divers media can play a vital role in assuring skeptical EU countries that Turkey qualifies for EU membership but Turkey still ranks 115 out of 166, far behind any other EU country!
Also a strong media in Turkey provide not only valuable information to a geographically large country, but a release valve for diverse opinions in a country with longstanding ethnic problems and a religious-secular divide.
IPS Communication Foundation, better known as BIANET, will be making the case for “Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech in Turkey on the Road to the EU” at a conference today and tomorrow (3-4 May) in Istanbul. At that time, BIANET’s quarterly report on free expression and press freedom in Turkey will be available in Turkey and English on BIANET’s website.
Turkey has still a long way to go!

Day Opening - May 3

...lined up to go home (how organized!)