The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) will be jointly hosting the conference ‘Turkey: Fighting for journalists’ rights and freedoms in a politically polarized country’ in Istanbul 17/18 September 2015. This international conference is the culmination of five years campaigning on journalists’ rights, freedoms, working conditions and capacity building for the journalist trade union organisation whose strength is fundamental to the future protection and promotion of Turkish journalism.
The political context in which the conference will be taking place could not be more challenging. We will meet in a highly charged atmosphere created by the relaunch of fighting with the PKK and a government in political limbo following inconclusive elections and another national vote scheduled for 1st November. This period has seen an intense propaganda war between the government, Kurdish groups and other parties as the struggle for control of the political narrative in the build up to the next elections intensifies. This struggle has seen a deluge of attacks and restrictions on Turkish media with journalists (including foreign correspondents) being arrested and deported, offices raided and vandalised, individuals assaulted, websites blocked and the voices of peace and reason drowned out in the cacophony of war.
“The government must immediately end the bullying and harassment of journalists and enable them to operate freely,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. “The IFJ stands united behind Turkey’s journalists.”
“Last year saw a drop in the number of journalists in prison, a welcome move, but the recent attacks against Hürriyet and others shows that they have come back for more. We come to support our colleagues doing their jobs as journalists and to fight against censorships and crack-downs”, said Barry White, EFJ Steering Committee member.
“If journalists are to act professionally they should be treated as professionals. You cannot expect someone earning just 2.000 TL (approx. 500 EUR) to be a press freedom hero every day. The management needs to overcome its fear of unions, and the media staff needs to unionize like their counterparts in a civilized world”, added Mustafa Kuleli, TGS General Secretary, in a interview published by Hürriyet Daily News.
“Beyond the immediate election climate, Turkey needs to undergo a significant structural reform to enable journalists to be truly free,” said Oliver Money-Kyrle, IFJ Ass. General Secretary. “It needs to end its assault on social media through the provision of unlimited online censorship power of the Turkish telecommunications authority, it needs to create a transparent ownership structures so that media owners cannot benefit from corrupt political deals and favours, it needs laws that guarantee the rights of journalists and of freedom of expression, it also needs to enable journalists (including freelancers) to organise freely in labour unions to ensure that salaries, job security and editorial independence is guaranteed”.
The conference will feature some strong names as speakers and panelists, that include Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet daily’s Editor-in-Chief; Hakkı Boltan from Free Journalists Association; Ayşenur Arslan from Halk TV; Kadri Gürsel from IPI and Şirin Payzın from CNN Türk. Specific panels are dedicated to discuss press freedom in Turkey, peace journalism, reporting as LGBTI journalists, press trials and monitoring, trade unions, labor rights, recruitment of women journalists and the new media environment between elections.
The international conference is the final event in the “Campaign to decriminalize Turkish journalism, to free speech and protect work place rights” two years project supported by the European Commission’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) program.