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DW Freedom

Turkish journalism is struggling to breathe

The media environment of Turkey as of 2015 can be described in simple terms: it is as if you are trying to survive in a cabin where the oxygen is scarcer every moment that passes, writes Yavuz Baydar.

Turkish journalists - namely those who are keen on the dignity, integrity and the 'public interest' role of the profession - are only trying to find a breathing room to survive and operate, struggling against total suffocation.

Journalism over here is oppressed in a double-layered manner: As the censorship through various means intensifies, so does the self-censorship, which together cripple reporting and commenting.

Since the Gezi protests, there have been more than 40 gag orders in cases such as corruption probes or "IS"-related bombings to prevent the public from reaching the facts. The accreditation bans became a daily practice. Critical newspapers remain banned from Turkish Airlines flights and airports, as well as goverment offices. Radio-TV regulatory body, RTUK, operates as a main censorship authority, delivering fines to TV stations.

Jailing is not a common practice, but the threat of it is. The number of legal inquiries and lawsuits against journalists, bloggers and tweeters, mainly based on 'insulting' Erdogan have skyrocketed. In some cases, some colleagues face lengthy prison sentences.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) there are around 20 jailed journalists. Although the graphic points to a fall, the nature of those detained recently are extremely worrisome, particularly the cases of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, and beyond. Hidayet Karaca, the top manager of Samanyolu TV, has been kept in custody for over four months, due to charges on a script for a TV series. In an equally severe case, Mehmet Baransu, an investigative reporter with the independent daily Taraf, has been detained on charges of "obtaining secret state documents," and is presented by the government circles as a "spy." Both cases threaten to establish precedents for paralyzing journalism even further.

Self-censorship has become a norm, and now is part of the professional culture. I have always argued that, since it is a severe form of "self-imprisonment," its widespread practice in the conglımerate media - owned by moguls who are dependent on the goverrnment's blessing for their large-scale business interests - has turned their newsrooms into open-air prisons, where editors who are on a high payroll work to block the stories that have news value, and encourage the reporters and columnists to file pro-government copy. Those who resist are systematically fired. Since only 1.5 percent of journalists in Turkey are brave enough to join unions, editorial independence is close to rock bottom, as the fear of losing income is greater than the fear of facing trial or prison.

The overall picture is a media roughly 80 percent of which is under government control, unable to "remember" the core values of what we know as journalism. The alarm bells are ringing.

Yavuz Baydar is founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism, P24, a columnist for Today's Zaman and a blogger for Huffington Post.