Turkey’s journalists call for solidarity in struggle for their right to report

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During a conference hosted by the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) leading journalists from across the political spectrum united in condemning the surge in attacks on press freedom led by the government in recent weeks.

Participants recounted how, since the inconclusive June elections and the relaunch of the conflict with the PKK in July, journalists and media have come under sustained assault from the government and their supporters. Newspapers are regularly attacked by angry mobs, numerous websites of press agencies and trade unions are repeatedly blocked, foreign journalists are being deported, while many others are subjected to a series of prosecutions for ‘insulting’ the Turkish President or simply fired from their jobs. The pressure on journalists is only expected to intensify as the country heads for an electoral re-run on 1st November.

The International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ), who jointly organized the international conference, added their voice to the call for an end to the oppression.

“The government must cease this campaign to silence journalists,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. “Journalists must unite together across the political divide to fight the bullying, intimidation and violence that threatens to pacify the profession.”

Ugur Guç, TGS President said : “Turkish society is becoming fragmented and the country is going up in flames. As the TGS, we always call for peace instead of war. We call on our colleagues to use language promoting peace instead of using hate-speech”.

The international conference featured prominent speakers and panelists including Can Dundar, Sirin Payzin, Kadri Gürsel, Ragip Duran, Erol Önderoglu, Steven Ellis, Yildiz Tar, Hakki Boltan, Sibel Günes, Baris Ince. Frederike Geerdink, the Dutch journalist recently deported from Turkey, also participated to the conference using teleconference.

Can Dündar, editor of Cumhuriyet, said it was time for journalists to stand united against oppression claiming that, despite the firestorm, this is the best time to be a journalist in Turkey. “This is the right time and the right place, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Kadri Gürsel, prominent columnist sacked by the Miliyet on the instruction of President Erdogan said that between the elections today’s journalists were facing terrorism and death threats. In response he called on journalists to “Show no fear. Be bold. Bowing to pressure only helps their victory.”

Frederike Geerdink, Dutch journalist based in Diyarbakir and deported in September for reporting the conflict participated through skype said that “there is press freedom in Turkey for some. If you are protected by the government you are free to distort the truth at will”.

The IFJ-EFJ, TGS and TGC presented the Istanbul conference conclusions at a press conference on 18th September which set out a list of immediate actions to be taken in this electoral period and prioritized key issues for the long term reform of the media sector for the upcoming government post 1st November. Immediate actions included ending the discriminatory accreditation system, enabling journalists to report the conflict and election in total freedom, reform of the press card commission to enable the professional trade union and associations to issue press card without governmental interference; guaranteeing free movement, safety and access to information across the country; freeing remaining jailed journalists and ending all prosecutions; ending the censorship of the internet by the TIB and blocking of media websites, promote self regulation and respect of ethical and independent journalism and calling for journalists to avoid hate speech.

Barry White, representing the EFJ Steering Committee, is reporting about how the journalistic community is planning the way forward in Turkey.

Central to the recovery of journalism in Turkey will be the rebuilding of the journalists trade union movement and a renewed respect for journalists employment rights that provide decent pay and conditions, professional recognition, job security and protection from political interference in the newsroom.

Credit Photo : MK

The full Istanbul Conclusions can be found here : 

Istanbul Conclusions

IFJ / EFJ / TGS / TGC

Preamble: the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) together with the International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) hosted a meeting on press freedom in Turkey on 17 September 2015. The meeting debated both the long term obstacles to independent journalism faced and the current acute situation facing journalists between the 7 June elections and the 1st November repeat elections.

Having heard from over 70 journalists representing media across the country the participants highlighted the following issues.

  • Condemn the surge in oppression against journalists following the June elections including prosecutions, intimidations, violence, online censorship and the banning of journalists in Turkey. In particular, concerned by the reporting restrictions in South East Turkey and the fear for the freedom and security of our colleagues reporting the conflict that threatens the public’s right to access information.
  • Deplore the ongoing imprisonment of 20 journalists in jail and the continued threat of prosecution to those who were released in recent years and the hundreds more ongoing prosecutions.
  • Deeply disturbed by the hostile atmosphere to independent journalists created by the government and political leaders in their public attacks on critical journalists and media who don’t follow the government line. This includes:
    • The intolerance of the President to criticism and his readiness to prosecute for defamation or bully employers to silence them through dismissals.
    • The shackling of the mainstream media by the use of bribes and threats.
    • The undermining the independence of the judiciary.
  • Regret the weakening of the trade union through the de-recognition campaign of the 1990s. This has left today’s journalists impoverished, divided, working on minimum salaries, with no job security and no protection.
  • Emphasise that journalists role is to serve the public interest and that the intimidation of journalists is an assault on the public’s right to information, and ability to make informed decisions.

Conclude the following recommendations

Journalists from across the media community in Turkey must unite together in their condemnation of attacks on their profession. An attack on one journalist or media is an attack on all.

Call on journalists to unite behind the Journalists Union of Turkey to build a strong trade union movement that can protect jobs, negotiate better conditions and improve independence and standards.

Call on the public, civil society groups to support the rights of journalists and reform of the Turkish media environment for the long term benefit of Turkish society.

Journalists demand the following immediate actions

  • Enable journalists to report the conflict and electoral situation in total freedom
  • End oppression of journalists and guarantee free movement, safety and access to information and sources throughout the country
  • Free all remaining journalists in jail and end all prosecutions
  • End censorship of the internet
  • To avoid hate speech and promote peaceful resolution;
  • Demand political leaders to publicly back the work of independent journalists
  • Organise a day of Action to draw public attention to the current assault on their profession.

Call on all political parties and the future government post 1st November to:

End illegitimate prosecutions of journalists including

  • Freeing all remaining jailed journalists
  • Dropping all current charges and investigations against journalists
  • Reform defamation and insult provisions to end special protection for the President and public officials and recognise that holders of public office must be subject to criticism and accountability
  • Guarantee the Independence of the judiciary

Media ownership and transparency, promoting pluralism and public service journalism

  • End the combined use of public tenders and government advertising revenue and the threats of tax inspections and prosecutions as a tool to control the media
  • Introduce regulations that limit media concentration, and guarantee the independence, transparency and pluralism of ownership.
  • Reform the state broadcaster into a genuine independent public service.

Job security, union building and collective agreements

  • End the bullying of media owners and employers to silence and dismiss critical journalists
  • Build fair and decent labour conditions in the news room that guarantee job security, welcome trade union representation, and provide decent salaries.

Censorship on the internet

  • End the power of the Telecommunications regulator to close websites and other communications systems without independent judicial review.
  • End prosecutions for use of social media.

The Set Journalism Free in Turkey campaign is part of the Campaign to decriminalise Turkish Journalism, to free speech and protect work place rights project which receives the financial support of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Program managed by the European Commission. All responsibilities regarding the contents and the actions belong to the authors only and should not be considered as reflecting the views of the European Union.

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