A recent survey by independent online media platform Bianet reveals that Turkey’s authorities, citing security reasons, blocked access to 2,950 online news stories on various websites.
Newly released “BİA Media Monitoring Report 2018: One Year of the Journalist and the Media” dwells upon a wide array of issues concerning media freedom, the state of imprisoned journalists and how many media outlets faced fines and other sorts of pressure during the entire last year.
Criminal Courts of Peace in various cities blocked access to 2,950 online stories on different websites. The same report notes that Turkish courts banned access to at least 77 tweets, 22 Facebook posts and Facebook videos, and 10 internet news portal. The figures reveal the depth of the ongoing clampdown on media outlets and platforms for free expression.
According to the report, 122 journalists were jailed in the last year due to their journalistic work.
Leading international rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) describe Turkey as the country, which jails journalists more than any other country around the globe. The dismal state of media only worsened last year as Bianet report offers a riveting account of the crackdown.
Bianet detailed that Turkish journalists, in total, were sentenced to 602 years in jail over coup-related and terrorism charges. They mostly faced accusations of membership in an armed terrorist organization, supporting terrorism and other criminal activities.
In a detailed fashion, the report documents how many journalists received exactly how much jail term in relation to the accusations they faced. Some got life sentences.
In the past two years, the report noted, seven “journalists have been sentenced to five life sentences and 45 years in prison in total for “attempting coup” and “targeting the security of the state.”
Sixty-four “journalists have been imprisoned for total 480 years and two months” for terrorism-related charges, the report added. Critics and outside observers believe that the majority of the trials against journalists are politically motivated.
Separately, at least 19 journalists and media outlets came under attack in 2018, Bianet report indicates. As Bianet shows, “insulting the president” appeared as one of the leading charges against journalists.
Only last year, 20 journalists, reporters and columnists faced that charge. Prosecutors invoke Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which regulates the status of the president of the Turkish Republic. After legal proceedings, journalists received 35,000 TL in fines in total. A number of journalists were also sentenced to 38 years and five months in prison in total.
Television Watchdog Suspends Broadcasting of 67 TV Programs
The state-run Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK), which monitors, regulates, and sanctions radio and television broadcasts temporarily stopped broadcasts of 67 TV programs, issued fines on 85 occasions and issued a warning to TV channels against violation of RTUK rules.
The number of RTUK bans showed a sudden surge in sharp contrast to the previous year, 2017, when authorities suspended only 13 programs for violating RTUK norms. The number, according to Bianet, was 67 in 2018.
In general, eight newspapers, two TV channels, some TV series and various programs faced censorship from authorities during last year. Wikipedia, which came under a ban in 2017, remained inaccessible to the Turkish citizens for the entire year in 2018 as well. The government dismissed calls for re-opening the global behemoth of the online encyclopedia.
“Terrorism propaganda” emerged as another key charge that landed a number of journalists behind bars. At least 21 journalists were sentenced 67 years, 7 months and 4 days in prison in total. Eight journalists were acquitted of terrorism charges and cases against them were later dropped by courts.
The report also mentions about the cases brought to Constitutional Court, which, throughout 2018, “sentenced Turkey to pay 135,881 Turkish Lira of compensation in total in 18 different cases.”
Apart from trials and the constant threat of imprisonment, unemployment appeared no less significant challenge for the journalists. Last year, 157 media members lost their jobs. In the aftermath of the coup in 2016, more than 160 media outlets were shut down. Thousands of journalists were left jobless with little prospect for employment in Turkey’s shrinking media sector, especially for government critics.
The issues concerning media did not remain limited to Turkey’s domestic realm as many disgruntled journalists went to Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in a quest to obtain a legal remedy.
“European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Turkey to pay 73,000 euros of compensation upon applications of 12 people, including six journalists and two publishers, for violating freedom of expression,” Bianet reports.
The ECtHR fined Turkey to pay 205,430 euros in compensation to victims in 2017 and 27,590 euros in 2016 for violating freedom of expression.