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November 06, 2012, Tuesday

CPJ’s critical shortcoming

Reacting to the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the state of media freedom in Turkey, my colleagues continue to give their opinions.

In two of the recent ones, Joost Lagendijk and Abdullah Bozkurt, both of them columnists with Today’s Zaman, shared their justified critique of the shortcomings, flaws, blurs and some misperceptions of the report, while constructively admitting the correct observations. I agree particularly with their view that the CPJ report should have taken into consideration the (interim or final) rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in cases related to applications by some Turkish journalists in jail to give nuance to the picture.

As the CPJ delegation is now visiting Turkey to meet officials in Ankara and colleagues in general, I would like to follow up on what I commented on it in a previous article. The danger in such reports on this side of the millennium, particularly around this region, with a greed-polluted media landscape (as the Murdoch-News of the World case also illustrated elsewhere), narrowing the focus solely on legal punishment for exercising journalism and turning a blind eye to proprietor-sponsored, widespread censorship is equal to being exposed to counter criticism.

Media freedom matters in today’s world are much more complex than the world during the Cold War, and journalism culture, say, in the US, prevents seeing into the depths of the root causes in Turkey and the Balkans.

In a recent interview with Nina Ognianova, regional coordinator of the CPJ, I shared my views on the immense complexities of Turkey’s media issues that are related to problems as legal punishment.

The long interview is available on the CPJ’s website, but here I want to share some of my responses to her with my readers:

“If there is a crackdown, it is much more about Kurdish colleagues, activist-publishers and Kurdish publications. Most of their cases fall under the category of crackdown because Turkish authorities interpret the problematic Anti-Terror Law to obstruct freedom of expression. The law in its vagueness makes it possible to arrest people with other accusations than the practice of freedom of opinion and information, which makes it tough for us all to distinguish whether or not the accused people are militants or journalists.”

“Then we have a group of people, accused of co-conspiring for a coup with top officers. … Almost all the applications [to the ECtHR] of these suspected colleagues, claiming that they were indicted and jailed because they are journalists, were rejected by the ECtHR in Strasbourg. Do I agree with the ECtHR on this? Yes. Do I also agree with the ECtHR that they were held for far too long in jail? Absolutely. A coup is a very serious crime.”

“The media owners (are) acting as ‘the coalition of the willing’ that openly act submissively to the government and security bureaucracy. I can only refer to a key meeting between the PM and all the media proprietors last autumn during which media owners went as far as proposing to the PM that they could build a ‘censor commission’ among themselves to be chaired by a cabinet minister. The PM declined the offer, but the message was well taken. … A pattern of blocking (news stories) is now the norm.”

The worst part is that, at the moment, there is no media owner in the “center” who cares or stands up for the decent conduct of the profession. Not long ago, lashing out at some columnists, the prime minister addressed media owners as “shopkeepers.” Not a single word of protest came from those humiliated.

“The future of an independent, efficient, strong press for Turkey looks bleak at the moment. …Turkey’s media owners are -- like drug addicts -- dependent on the powers in Ankara because they are in all sorts of businesses, need approvals for growth and investments, etc., and therefore keep their media outlets either as weapons for extortion or, at best, at the service of governments.”

“In conclusion, there is no crackdown on the media, but growing control, decreasing (if any left) editorial independence in the center and a climate of self-censorship not imposed by the political powers but by the economic powers (owners) who act in their own financial interests.”

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