The arrest of journalists, including two high-profile reporters, exacerbates worries over press freedom.
By Alina Lehtinen for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 13/05/11
Journalists and their supporters protest the arrest of fellow reporters in Ankara. [Reuters]
Friends and supporters of free press in Turkey marked UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, but had little to celebrate.
The extent to which Turkey has a free media has long been a sensitive subject. It became even more so after the government detained another group of journalists in March -- among them award-winning reporters Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener.
The government says they are part of an ultranationalist network dubbed Ergenekon, which allegedly plotted to stage violent incidents in order to sow disruption and bring about a coup.
Milliyet columnist Kadri Gursel was at the National Press Club in Washington recently, attending commemorations of World Press Freedom Day at the invitation of the US State Department.
The decision to invite him demonstrates that the media in Turkey are under attack, Gursel wrotes in an op-ed, because the guest list included journalists from countries – such as China, Burma and Zimbabwe -- that are "troubled with press freedom to varying degrees".
"The situation ... has been rapidly and steadily deteriorating for some time. Statistical proof is also evident," Gursel wrote. During the period from January to April 2009, he added, 29 Turkish journalists were in prison, and that number increased to 58 by 2011.
The situation has provoked rueful comment from some Turkish bloggers. Among them is Midgard, who writes that Turks today are limited to a press "that is dependent upon the government, probably to an extent seen in no other period of government".
"Today is World Press Freedom Day, let’s celebrate our un-free press," the blogger adds, sounding a note of irony.
Others say it is not the government which is primarily to blame, but rather the current legal system in Turkey, which subjects reporters to numerous constraints and a high risk of prosecution.
"Maybe these laws are also found in other countries, but more than the laws our problem is implementation. Consequently, judges could take a more liberal interpretation of writings that fall within the category of a crime," writes Nazli Ilicak at Sabah.
Political commentator Hasan Cemal says there is no justification in a democracy for silencing dissent.
"There are many voices in democracies, they aren't a monotonic choir," he writes. "You can’t just shut up voices you don't want to hear."
He argues that if the ruling Justice and Development Party really takes democracy seriously, then it should muster the political will to bring about new legal arrangements.
"Erdogan can't just sit with his hands tied in [a country like] Turkey that has taken so many blows against freedom of the press," he writes.