There is no press freedom in Turkey, journalists yearn for better conditions

January 10 is known as Working Journalists’ Day in Turkey, a country where more than 142 journalists, according to the Press Council of Turkey (TGC), continue to rot in jail. 

While this is the case, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that the press in Turkey is freer than previous years.

Erdoğan published a message on Twitter, claiming that “thanks to government reforms made in sixteen years, the press environment in Turkey has become more rich, diverse, democratic and free.”

Erdoğan’s message was met with a negative reaction by press organisations.

Turkey ranks high among countries where many journalists are taken as prisoners. According to the latest figures, Turkey is at 156th place among 180 countries that have bad press freedom track records.

Last year, seventy-four journalists were sentenced to more than 400 years in jail. Fifty-three were sentenced for ‘allegedly insulting the president’ while hundreds of online news outlets were blocked and many TV stations fined by the local watchdog, RTÜK.

Latest employment figures show that about 4000 journalists are jobless, in a country where the president claims the press has become more “rich.”

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Non-existent press freedom

Before the coup in March 1971, January 10 had been celebrated as “the Working Journalists’ Festival.” After the coup, the day was stripped off its “festival” quality and started to be called “Working Journalists’ Day.”

The Press Council of Turkey (TGC) has released a statement on the occasion of the prestigious press day and raised concerns about the dismissal and unemployment of journalists:

The TGC said in a statement they see little benefit to celebrate the day. The day, which came as a result of Press Law 212, a law that granted journalists freedoms and job security, among others, was meant to be symbolic in respecting press freedom and the work journalists do. TGC said this has unfortunately not been the case in Turkey.

The general chairman of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), Faruk Eren said this day is “just an occasion.”  

“January 10 was a festival in Turkey underlined with Press Law 212, a law that protected personal rights of journalists. Such a day cannot solely discuss job protection but should extend to more healthier working conditions for journalists,” said Eren.

There is also the matter of Pelin Ünker. Ünker is a journalist who was sentenced to a year, one month and fifteen days and a fine of 8 000 Lira for news pieces about Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım, and his sons.      

On Erdogan’s claims about a free press, a sceptical Eren said the president may be referring to embedded journalists, working in ‘obeyed newspapers.’ He said there are journalists who work in print and broadcast under miserable conditions and are poorly paid.  

“If we make democracy’s quality higher and journalists are released from prison then we can talk. The government has to accept even news they don’t like. In that way, we may see a free press in Turkey. The press needs to organize itself in unity,” said Eren.

Press organisations lash out at Erdogan’s statement

“There is no press day to celebrate and there is no Day of Journalists worthy to be commemorated anymore,” the steering board of the Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD) said in a statement.

The ÇGD criticised job losses and arrests of journalists. “This month, January, is nothing but an attempt to obliterate the murders of journalists Uğur Mumcu, Metin Göktepe and Hrant Dink, their murderers and instigators are members of the states,” CGD said.

The statement further said: “With the Press Law (No.212), media bosses protested the law that brought favourable provisions for workers in 1961 and decided to suspend the publication of newspapers as a means of protest. The press workers opposed this resistance and published the papers after seizing printing houses. Currently, press freedom and freedom of expression are in a worse situation than 51 years ago.

“This law brought important rights to press workers. Unionisation has decreased, the ‘right to depreciation’ was lifted, sub-contracting became widespread, job security was abolished, working without social security and layoffs became commonplace. The ÇGD has nothing to celebrate on press day and does not have a Day of Journalists any more.”

Erol Önderoğlu, a Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders lashed out at Erdogan’s statement on social media pointing out that “we observe not a free press environment but an environment under the supervision of enterpriser closing government, far away problems of the citizenry, worrisome environment indexed one politic structure. He (referring Erdoğan’s reform) also could not liaison with EU reforms.”

Association of Journalist Kocaeli Office ‘We don’t celebrate’

Joining in in the non-celebration of the day, the Association of Journalists, based in Kocali, the eastern Turkish province neighbouring İstanbul, said they see no need to celebrate the day. The association said it will not celebrate until the day “journalists are free, secure and humane.”

“Journalists were granted their social and vital rights fifty-eight years before after ratification of Press Law 212. That law ensured journalists embraced great rights. We are moving away from the rights granted on January 10 1961. We will not celebrate Working Journalist Day but consider it as a struggle day.”

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