Assessing Press Freedom in Turkey
By Gökçe Tüylüoğlu
Marc Pierini, former Ambassador of the European Union to Turkey, has received the International Publication of the Year Award in the Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards for his report Press Freedom in Turkey. For the last year, Pierini has been working as a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe with the support of the Open Society Foundation–Turkey, where his research focuses on developments in Turkey from a European perspective.
The report, written with Marcus Mayr, describes the state of press freedom in Turkey as “a stain on Ankara’s democratic reputation, economic standing, and diplomatic position.” Turkey recently dropped by 50 places in the Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index to 148, two places below the Democratic Republic of the Congo and two places ahead of Afghanistan.
The report presents the following key findings:
- Turkey currently has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world, but the government and civil society organizations strongly disagree about the exact number. This creates an antagonistic atmosphere that hinders constructive reform.
- The judicial system tends to equate criticizing government policies and sympathizing with radical ideology. Journalists who report and comment on sensitive investigations or court proceedings as part of their job can face judicial prosecution.
- Many imprisoned journalists are detained on charges relating to terrorist activities linked to Kurdish separatism.
- The government filters content online and blocks websites, seemingly targeting content that it deems unwanted or illegal.
- Large conglomerates control major media outlets, so economic interests cloud media decisions and undermine editors’ and journalists’ ability to provide truly independent, critical reporting.
- The government directly interferes at times in media affairs by lashing out at journalists or outlets in response to personal and policy criticism.
- A judicial reform package was adopted in mid-2012 to address some of these issues, but more drastic reforms are needed. A fourth judicial reform package should be adopted soon.
The report proposes several steps to take for Turkey to move forward and promote progress in the area of press freedom, such as ending dispute over the numbers of the jailed journalists, continuing the judicial reform process, enhancing the role of civil society in protecting press freedom, and reviving the EU accession process.
The Think Tank of the Year Awards were founded in 2001 by The Prospect Magazine. They represent an annual celebration of influential work done by think tanks across the globe. The awards aim to give credit to the most original and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments, and businesses.