Is press freedom under attack in Turkey?

Published 15.04.2016 22:37
Updated 16.04.2016 14:26
Is press freedom under attack in Turkey?

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A majority of the press in Turkey is considered opposition press and although there is no shortage of critical media outlets, freedom of the press in Turkey is still not perfect

I have spent many years of my life living and visiting many Western countries and this experience has given me a unique opportunity to compare Turkey with many Western countries in different matters, including the freedom of the press. From my observations, the level of press freedoms in Turkey is on par with advanced democracies in Western Europe, and definitely better than the level of press freedoms in the United States.

I make this bold statement not from a vacuum, but knowing the numerous restrictions imposed on press freedoms in the United States, which includes government surveillance of journalists, government attempts to compel reporters to reveal the sources of their information, and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration policies that severely limit the interaction between journalists and officials. Taking this state of affairs into consideration, it is bewildering to witness the Obama administration ignoring the fact that journalists in the United States are under attack while at the same time have the audacity to point a finger at Turkey on the issue of the freedom of the press.

If we ignore the empty rhetoric coming from many Western capitals and focus on the facts then we can easily see that there is no shortage of critical media outlets freely expressing their opinions in Turkey. As a matter of fact, the majority of press in Turkey is considered opposition press or press that often holds negative or critical views of the government. Whereas France declared a state of emergency after the Paris attacks in 2015, Turkey has stayed true to democracy, the rule of law and the freedom of the press despite the fact that is has suffered from four terrorist attacks since the beginning of 2016.

It is no surprise then that criticism coming from Western countries receives little heed from the Turkish public, which realizes that the level of criticism in the Turkish press directed at not only the government, but also the president of Turkey and his family is unparalleled in the most advanced democratic states, and that this criticism of the president and his family, more often than not, exceeds the limits of professionalism, civility and ethical conduct.

There are no questions in my mind concerning the freedom of the press in Turkey, but we should be careful to distinguish between legitimate press activity and criminal and illegal activities exploiting press freedoms as a disguise. Nowhere in the world do the support of terrorist organizations and the propagation of terrorist propaganda qualify as press freedoms. Would the United States allow a terrorist organization such as DAESH to operate TV channels or publish newspapers in the United States, and would it allow journalists associated with DAESH to freely spread the terrorist organization's propaganda? The answer is certainly no.

I challenge critics to name a single journalist who is behind bars in Turkey on the grounds of their journalistic activities. The journalist who are currently imprisoned in Turkey were convicted or indicted on charges of espionage, support of a terrorist organization or other criminal activities.

Let's be clear about one thing: What we are witnessing here is a systematic and ill-intentioned attack on Turkey with the freedom of the press used as the pretext. It is a well-organized smear campaign that aims to distort Turkey's image, detract from its soft power and prevent it from presenting itself as a model of a strong country with a prosperous economy, independent foreign policy and vibrant democracy to the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Not only that, this smear campaign is part of strong-arm tactics to force Tukey into a corner and coerce it into giving concession contrary to its legitimate interests on the issue of Syrian refugees and its stance on the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed People's Protection Units (YPG).

Although Turkey is the single largest host of Syrian refugees, having taken in more than 2.7 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Union, with its 28 member countries, has cracked under the pressure of receiving around 1 million Syrian refugees hitting its shores and boarders last year. Rather than shouldering its fair share of the burden and accepting its legal and ethical responsibility regarding Syrian refugees, the European Union wants to transfer the burden and responsibility to Turkey, and in doing so is employing the freedom of the press card as a tactic to force Turkey to accept unfair terms and agreements.

The very same thing can be said about the United States, which openly supports two terrorist organizations in Syria, the PYD and YPG. Washington wants Ankara to change its stance on these two terrorist organizations despite the fact that these two terrorist organizations are no more than extensions of the PKK, which is waging a terrorist campaign against the Turkish state. However, Ankara is resolved in its stance that there cannot be talk about "good terrorist" or "bad terrorist;" that all terrorism must be condemned whether it comes from the right or the left; and that no terrorist organization, i.e., PYD and YPG, can attain any degree of legitimacy just because it is fighting against another terrorist organization, DAESH in this case.I am not under the illusion that the freedom of the press is perfect in Turkey, or any other country for that matter. There is room for improvement and an opportunity to introduce more progressive practices. What is needed is sincere, non-biased expert advice and not misguided and viscous attacks on Turkey. If the West believes that it has something to gain from sustaining these false attacks on Turkey then it is gravely mistaken. The Turkish public is not naive and can see these attacks for what they really are. What all these attacks serve to do is harm the West's interests in the long run and feed the feelings of mistrust and suspicion the Turkish public has toward the West.

* Political researcher and analyst based in Ankara

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