Zu glauben, die Medien- und Meinungsfreiheit sei überall gewährleistet wie in der Schweiz, ist mehr als blauäugig. Exemplarisch dafür, wie auch in einer verfassungsrechtlichen Demokratie Journalisten und Verlagshäuser von staatlicher und politischer Seite übel bedrängt werden, ist das Beispiel der Türkei. Das Internationale Presseinstitut in Wien (IPI), die älteste Organisation zum Schutz der Medienfreiheit weltweit, hat vor kurzem zusammen mit Partnerorganisationen das Land besucht und im Nachgang diesen Bericht veröffentlicht.
Press freedom and freedom of expression are not a luxury – they are basic needs for democratic society. Turkey wants to be a democracy. Turkey has signed the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey is willing to join the European Union by accepting the so-called “Copenhagen Criteria” which seek among other objectives to safeguard the rule of law and fair and equal access to a free press.
Given that, it is hard to understand why Turkey has such a sombre track record of intimidation, harassment, attacks and unjustified legal and financial interventions, not only against individual journalists, bloggers and authors, but also against national and international publishing houses and media outlets that operate independent of the state.
As the chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee, Kadri Gürsel, wrote in a Feb. 19, 2015 column in daily Milliyet, political leaders try to control media via “huge tax fines, calls for boycotts, advertisement embargos, seizing media outlets and transferring their ownership to supporters, publication bans, targeting journalists in rallies, having journalists fired, imprisoning journalists and frustrating them with legal cases on insult claims, targeting opposition journalists with social media trolls, and cultivating Internet sites and columnists… tasked with scaring and intimidating critics….” Five months later, Gürsel was fired after sugesting that Turkey’s policy toward the Islamic State (IS) group played a role in a deadly IS bombing of a cultural center in Suruç.
In an unprecedented venture, eight international organisations undertook a Joint International Emergency Press Freedom Mission to Turkey to highlight the deep international concerns over the deteriorating state of press freedom in Turkey and its impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections and beyond. The joint mission demonstrated a profound solidarity with colleagues in the media in Turkey and it focused attention in Turkey and abroad on the impact that growing pressure on independent media is likely to have on the ability to hold a free and fair election.
The international delegation met with journalists, media representatives, international diplomats and leading members of the opposition parties. At the close of the mission, delegates stood in solidarity with their colleagues and demanded an immediate end to all pressure that hinders or prevents them from performing their job or which serves to foster an ongoing climate of self-censorship. The delegates also urged that steps be taken to ensure that all journalists are able to freely investigate stories involving matters of public interest, including allegations of corruption, the “Kurdish issue”, alleged human rights violations, armed conflict – particularly issues related to the ongoing conflict in Syria – and local or regional issues or policies.
The mission highlighted a number of problems, including a lack of solidarity among journalists in Turkey that, unfortunately, has served them poorly. However, to comply with European and international standards, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the palace, the government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to change the situation for better. If the upcoming election is to be viewed as a democratic exercise, authorities must refrain from any politically or personally motivated intimidation of free press. This includes bringing legal cases against journalists for criticism of the president, applying anti-terror or criminal defamation laws to silence journalists, or using financial and economic pressure against media companies. To guarantee democracy in Turkey, a swift and sustainable improvement must take place – not only in light of the upcoming elections but beyond.
This mission was a demonstration of solidarity in support of that principle, and should serve to send the message that IPI and its partners will remain very attentive to any decisions and developments impacting press freedom in Turkey.