The European Commission, in a statement to Today's Zaman, underlined the importance of several issues regarding freedom of expression. Editorial independence, transparency of media ownership and being free from political interference were cited as the three basic pillars of media freedom.
The European Commission said it was concerned about measures taken against some journalists such as dismissals and criminal sanctions. The commission's statement comes just after Baydar, the ombudsman of Sabah, was fired from the newspaper. Baydar, a well-known liberal columnist, was invited by the European Commission to address the Speak-Up conference at the end of June in Brussels. In his speech, Baydar had strongly criticized the Turkish government, the ownership of media by big business and some of his colleagues for confusing journalism with political activism. He also served as president of the US-based Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO) between 2003 and 2004.
Peter Stano, the spokesman for Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle, also stressed in the statement “the significance of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedess” in terms of press freedom.
“Freedom of expression, together with pluralism, tolerance, broadmindedness, as well as editorial independence and transparency of media ownership, free from political interference, are key elements in any democracy,” he said.
Without naming Baydar by name, Stano said: “In this regard, the Commission expresses its concern for the recent measures taken against some journalists, including dismissals and criminal sanctions.”
Hasan Cemal, a well-known liberal columnist was also fired from the Milliyet daily in March for his critical remarks vis-à-vis the government.
Freedom of press and expression have been the focal point of the European Union regarding Turkey for the last several years. The European Commission in its yearly progress reports has strongly criticized the government and the cozy relationship between media and big business.
A report which came out last October said:
“High-level government and state officials and the military repeatedly turn publicly against the press and launch court cases. On a number of occasions journalists have been fired after signing articles openly critical of the government. All of this, combined with a high concentration of the media in industrial conglomerates with interests going far beyond the free circulation of information and ideas, has a chilling effect and limits freedom of expression in practice, while making self-censorship a common phenomenon in the Turkish media.
“Overall, the increase in violations of freedom of expression raises serious concerns, and freedom of the media was further restricted in practice. The legal framework, especially as regards organised crime and terrorism, and its interpretation by the courts, leads to abuses. Together with pressure on the press by state officials and the firing of critical journalists, this situation has led to widespread self-censorship. Frequent website bans are a cause for serious concern and there is a need to revise the law on the internet.”
EFJ outraged by firing of Baydar
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), together with its affiliate in Turkey, the Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikasi (TGS) has expressed its outrage at the dismissal of senior Turkish journalist, Yavuz Baydar, from the daily newspaper Sabah, a statement from the institution said on Thursday.
“It is a scandal that such a long-standing experienced journalist has been dismissed for taking a critical stance against the government,” said EFJ Vice-President Nadezda Azhgikhina, in İstanbul to attend the Second Freedom for Journalists Congress, organized by the Turkish Journalists' Freedom Platform with the TGS as its term chair, the statement stated.
“Yavuz Baydar introduced the practice of ombudsmanship into Turkey’s media environment in 1999. His writing in Today Zaman and his work as a broadcaster has distinguished him as a fearless journalist and it is ironic that while the abolition of censorship is being “commemorated”, it is exercised in such an aggressive manner by Turkish media themselves. Turkey’s democracy needs courageous journalists like Baydar and many others who have been dismissed these days in Turkey to tell the truth,” said the EFJ.