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Turkish journalism under attack, not just individual journalists

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Various prominent Turkish journalists attended a panel organized by the Peace Islands Institute and hosted by Columbia University in New York have said that a large-scale attack is under way against journalism in Turkey, not just against individual journalists.

On March 26, 2015, the panel, titled “pressure on Journalism and Press in Turkey,” was organized by Columbia University’s School of Journalism and the Peace Islands Institute (PII) at Columbia University one of the most prestigious universities in the world to discuss the problems affecting Turkish journalism. During the panel, participants pointed out that there is increasing political pressure on the press in Turkey and that journalists who perform their duties in a proper and ethical manner are being dismissed from their jobs.

The moderator of the panel was Ari Goldman, a professor from the School of Journalism, while panelists included Yavuz Baydar, a columnist for both the Today’s Zaman and Bugün dailies, the Cihan new agency’s General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici, Millet daily columnist Ergun Babahan and the Taraf daily’s Sezin Öney.

Speaking at the beginning of the panel, Mr. Goldman said that some anti-press measures adopted by the central administration in Turkey have had destructive effects on the media in the country. Recalling that Turkey has been listed as “Partly Free” in a recent annual report prepared by freedom House, Mr. Goldman also said that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries surveyed in its latest Press Freedom index released in February of this year.

In his comments, Baydar said that it would be wrong to conclude that the current attacks by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government only target press members or newspapers that are close to the Gülen movement (Hizmet movement) inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, adding: “We have been struggling against a civilian coup that is trying to expand its sphere of influence and seize complete control over the country.”

Baydar drew attention to a report by Harvard University that revealed that 800 journalists have been dismissed from their jobs since the nationwide Gezi protests that erupted in May 2013 over a government plan to demolish a park in İstanbul’s Taksim area, saying: “What this number tells us is that trained manpower [almost] no longer exists in the field of journalism in Turkey. There is a direct attack under way against journalism itself by dismissing trained and experienced journalists from their jobs; thus this attack does not just target individuals or a certain group of people.”

In his turn, Bilici said that more than 100 media bans have been introduced regarding various incidents or issues in Turkey over the last two years, adding that these media bans first started with a court-imposed blanket ban on media coverage of the Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurds were killed near Uludere in Şırnak province by Turkish jets on Dec. 28, 2011.

Bilici also said that another way of restricting the media in Turkey is accreditation bans imposed on critical media outlets, adding: “The government does not invite media outlets that it considers anti-government to press conferences and other activities. This is a serious problem preventing us from performing our journalistic profession.”

Releasing its annual “Freedom in the World 2015” report on Jan. 28, Freedom House heavily criticized anti-democratic developments in Turkey. Turkey was listed as “Partly Free” in the report in terms of freedoms and was given a rating of 3.5 — one being the worst and seven the best. With regards to civil liberties, Turkey was rated four, and its score for political rights was three.

Turkey received a downward trend arrow in the report as well “due to more pronounced political interference in anticorruption mechanisms and judicial processes, and greater tensions between majority Sunni Muslims and minority Alevis.

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