From Oct. 19 to 21, 2015, representatives of ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Index on Censorship, and the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) conducted a joint international emergency press freedom mission to Turkey.
The mission was conducted with the support and assistance of the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) and IPI’s National Committee in Turkey, with representatives of both groups also joining the mission.
The mission was conducted due to major concerns over the deteriorating state of press freedom in Turkey and its impact both on the upcoming parliamentary elections, and beyond.
Its primary goals were to demonstrate solidarity with colleagues in the media in Turkey, to focus attention on the impact that growing pressure on independent media is likely to have on the ability to hold a free and fair election, and to push for an end to such pressure.
Specific concerns related to: physical attacks on journalists and media outlets; raids on media outlets and seizures of publications; threatening rhetoric directed at journalists; the increasing use of criminal insult and anti-terrorism laws targeting independent media and government critics; the ongoing imprisonment of journalists; deportations of foreign journalists; and decisions by satellite and online television providers to stop carrying signals of broadcasters critical of the government.
During the course of meetings in Istanbul and Ankara, mission participants heard from representatives from nearly 20 different major media outlets in Turkey. They also met with representatives of three of the four parties currently holding seats in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly: the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Organisers sought to meet with representatives of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but were not afforded an opportunity to do so. Similarly, organisers sought meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson and foreign policy adviser, but received no response.
At the close of the mission, participants conducted a dialogue forum bringing together representatives from a broad cross section of media in Turkey for an open discussion to share with them the participants’ experience in Ankara meeting with foreign diplomats and representatives of political parties, and to hear the media representatives’ concerns and suggestions for how international organisations can best support press freedom and free expression in Turkey.
The joint statement
Following the conclusion of an Oct. 19 to 21, 2015 joint international emergency press freedom mission to Turkey, representatives of participating international, regional and local groups dedicated to press freedom and free expression find that pressure on journalists operating in Turkey has severely escalated in the period since parliamentary elections held June 7.
The representatives also conclude that this pressure has significantly impacted journalists’ ability to report on matters of public interest freely and independently, and that this pressure, if allowed to continue, is likely to have a significant and negative impact on the ability of voters in Turkey to share and receive necessary information, with a corresponding effect on Turkey’s democracy.
Accordingly, the representatives stand in solidarity with their colleagues in the media in Turkey and demand an immediate to end to all pressure that hinders or prevents them from performing their job, or which serves to foster an ongoing climate of self-censorship.
They also urge that steps be taken to ensure that all journalists are able to freely investigate stories involving matters of public interest, including allegations of corruption, the “Kurdish issue”, alleged human rights violations, armed conflict – particularly issues related to the ongoing conflict in Syria – and local or regional issues or policies.
The representatives specifically urge authorities in Turkey:
- To conduct a complete and transparent investigation into violent attacks on journalists and media outlets, including recent incidents targeting Hurriyet and columnist Ahmet Hakan, and to ensure that impunity for violent attacks on journalists is not allowed to flourish;
- To end the abuse allowed by broad anti-terror laws which chill reporting on matters of public interest or criticism of public figures, and to ensure that such laws are both precisely tailored to serve only legitimate ends and interpreted narrowly;
- To reform laws providing criminal penalties for insult and defamation by dealing with such cases under civil law and to end all use of such laws to target journalists, particularly Art. 299, which provides Turkey’s president with heightened protection from criticism. This is a violation of international standards;
- To enact reforms which free state media outlets from political pressure, e.g., by effecting a transition to a public broadcasting service that presents information from plural and diverse sources;
- To end the use of state agencies, such as tax authorities or others, to apply pressure against journalists who engage in criticism or critical coverage of politicians or government actions;
- To end the practice of seeking bans on the dissemination of content related to matters of public interest, e.g. the ban on dissemination of information related to the recent bombings in Ankara, and the practice of seeking to prohibit satellite or online platforms from carrying the signals of certain broadcasters;
- To refrain from taking other steps to censor online content, such as the blocking of websites or URLs, or the blocking of social media accounts, in the absence of a legitimate, compelling reason for doing so, and subject to independent judicial oversight.
- To release all journalists imprisoned in connection with journalistic activity, and to immediately and unconditionally release VICE News fixer Mohammed Rasool, who remains behind bars despite the release of two British colleagues, for whom he was working, and with whom he was detained;
- To end all arbitrary detention and deportation of foreign journalists;
- To respect the right of journalists to freely associate, and to end the pressure brought in recent years against the Journalists Union of Turkey.
The mission representatives also urge Turkey’s president:
- To end all exercise of direct personal pressure on owners and chief editors of critical media;
- To stop using negative or hostile rhetoric targeting journalists;
- To accept the greater degree of criticism that comes with holding public office, to stop using criminal insult or defamation provisions to silence critics, and to publicly call on supporters to refrain from seeking to initiate such cases on his behalf.
Moreover, the mission representatives urge foreign governments, particularly those of the United States and countries within the European Union:
- To press Turkey to uphold its commitments to respect and uphold international human rights standards and, in the case of the EU, to ensure that any concessions granted in connection with the resolution of the ongoing refugee crisis are made consistent with a long-term strategy specifically designed to encourage Turkey to comply with its commitments to uphold international human rights standards.
Finally, the mission representatives urge journalists in Turkey:
- To avoid the use of negative or hostile rhetoric targeting other journalists and to strive to uphold ethical standards developed by or as the result of self-regulatory bodies or processes;
- To exercise greater solidarity with colleagues under pressure and to defend the rights of all journalists.
David Diaz-Jogeix, ARTICLE 19 – Director of Programmes
Markus Spillmann, IPI Executive Board Vice Chair
Barbara Trionfi, IPI Executive Director
Steven M. Ellis, IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications
Muzaffar Suleymanov, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program Research Associate
Erol Onderoglu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Representative
Patrick Kamenka, Journalist, Intl. Federation of Journalists/European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ)
Mustafa Kuleli, Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) Secretary General; Member IFJ/EFJ
Melody Patry, Index on Censorship Senior Advocacy Officer
Ceren Sozeri, Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) Member; Galatasaray University Associate Professor