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US-Turkey debate press freedom on World Press Freedom Day

A Turkish presidential official reacted on Friday to the United States (US) Embassy in Ankara for its World Press Freedom Day message that criticized Turkey on “freedom of expression” and “judicial independence”.

Through its official Twitter account, the US mission criticized Turkey early on Friday, saying, “We will continue to urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, and judicial independence.”

The embassy posted another tweet emphasizing Turkey’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is 157th out of 180 countries.

The US mission also hung a banner on the embassy’s wall quoting the third US President Thomas Jefferson’s line, saying, “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

In response to the US messages, Fahrettin Altun, Presidential Communications Director, posted a tweet calling on the US to “stop hiding behind press freedom.” “Instead of pointing fingers at other nations, Washington must focus on addressing long-standing problems such as extreme poverty and racial discrimination,” Altun added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed, on its official social media account, its regret at what it called the “groundless calls” of the embassy.

Turkey remains 157th among 180 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index

Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries, as in 2018, according to 2019 World Press Freedom Index report released on Thursday by RSF, and has the highest number of journalists in prisons, and is increasing state crackdown on critical media.

RSF called Turkey the “world’s biggest jailer of journalists” in its 2019 report, stating that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) shut down dozens of media outlets during the two-year-long emergency rule after a coup attempt in July 2016.

According to the figures released by TurkeyPurge, the number of journalists arrested in Turkey has reached 319 since the failed coup in 2016. Turkey has closed 189 media and publishing outlets in total so far.

“After the elimination of dozens of media outlets and the acquisition of Turkey’s biggest media group by a pro-government conglomerate, the authorities are tightening the vice on what little is left of pluralism – a handful of media outlets that are being harassed and marginalized,” Paris-based RSF, an international media rights group, commented.

According to the International Media Institute (IPI), nearly 95 percent of the Turkish media is now at the hands of pro-government groups, after the acquisition of Dogan Media group last year by Demiroren group, led by Yildirim Demioren, president of the Turkish Football Federation.

Dogan Media had been once criticized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for being biased against him. Later, the group turned into a pro-government organization in 2018, just before the presidential and parliamentary elections. Erdogan Demiroren, Yildirim’s father, also bought daily Vatan and daily Milliyet in 2012.

The media rights organization claimed in its report that pre-trial imprisonments for media workers have become the norm in Turkey, with long prison sentences for some in the end. Some prominent journalists have further received life incarcerations, making the damages hard to recover for them.

As an example, the RSF Turkey representative, Erol Onderoglu, faces up to 14 years and 6 months imprisonment for being part of “editor for a day” campaign in 2016, a solidarity project in which some 50 journalists symbolically took turns at being editor of the pro-Kurdish opposition newspaper Ozgur Gundem, which was then allegedly under judicial pressure and was later shut down.

The RSF representative was prosecuted over his three articles published in the daily
on May 18, 2016.

“Censorship of websites and online social media has reached unprecedented levels and the authorities are now trying to bring online video services under control,” RSF declared.

In 2018, the Erdogan regime expanded the powers of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK), Turkish watchdog, to include overseeing online content providers, which amounted to digital censorship. The move came, the critics say, after the online world – websites, blogs, social media, etc. –emerged as the center of opposition in Turkey, notably in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2016.

Regulations grant the RTUK watchdog authority to issue or reject broadcasting licenses without reasoning, giving it complete power over digital content, Kerem Altiparmak, a human rights lawyer said.

Turkey’s top court rules rights of jailed journalists Ilıcak and Altan were not violated

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