New York, NY, Dec 8 — Center for Media Affairs of Peace Islands Institute organized a panel discussion on the topic “Journalism in Jail”. This panel was moderated by Frankie Edozien, Professor at NYU School of Journalism, and featured Joel Simon, Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Jason Mojica, Editor in Chief of VICE News, and Kerim Balci, Editor in Chief of Turkish Review.
This event was organized to bring awareness of the stories of imprisoned journalists and to discuss what can be done to have them released. The panel focused on the state of press freedom in Turkey, but it is important to realize that the imprisonment of journalists is not only a Turkish problem, but a global problem on press freedom. CPJ works actively to defend press freedom and in an upcoming special report, Joel Simon anticipates that the numbers of journalists in prison in Turkey will be significantly higher than last year. Joel Simon explained that the main reasons why the press freedom problem has continued in Turkey are president Erdogan’s war on information, the politicized media outlets and the severe national security issues in Turkey.
One of the jailed journalists that will be included in the upcoming report from CPJ is VICE News reporter Mohammed Rasool. Rasool’s professor was able to join the panel via Skype and described his former student as a talented and hardworking journalist who set an example for the rest of his students with his language skills and passion for the profession. Jason Mojica spoke about the unsettling feeling of watching the Rasool’s case unfold, as he has now spent more than 100 days in prison without a fair trial and with his lawyer being shot. Mojica also mentioned the discomfort of experiencing the feeling of not being able to speak out as a journalist, with the concern that it might have a negative impact on the possibilities for Rasool to be released. This self-regulation of speech to alleviate negotiations surrounding Rasool’s case is an indication of the far-reaching implications that the imprisonment of journalists can have.
Kerim Balci expanded on how the practice of putting journalists in jail affects the media climate in Turkey. He discussed the threat of imprisonment as a tool for the government to spread fear among media makers. Regardless of political ideology or affiliation with social groups, any reporter who upsets the regime could be subjected with criminal charges. Kerim Balci described how this oppressive media atmosphere shapes how opposition reporters write with “escaping imprisonment as the number one target of survival”. Furthermore, this environment pushes writers to either censure their work or even leave the country as a way to escape the threat of prison.
All panelists agree that the support from international media is crucial in order to release journalists from unjust prison-sentences. By having strong international support signals that there are no distinctions among journalists, and elevates this issue to a global attack on press freedom. Governments need to be held accountable for their accusations in order to stand up for the right to freedom of expression.