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Media situation in Turkey 'terrifying'

Chase Winter
December 8, 2016

Turkish journalists feel abandoned by the EU and international community, the OSCE's media representative told DW. The media crackdown is affecting the whole society.

OSZE Dunja Mijatovic Medienbeauftragte
Image: OSZE/Micky Kroell

The situation of media in Turkey is a "terrifying" problem that targets not only journalists but has a chilling effect on the whole of society, the top media rights observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) told DW.

"It is unacceptable that in the 21st century in a country that so many hoped was moving in a positive direction to suddenly have the terrifying situation where people are scared to express their views," Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, said in an interview on the sidelines of the international body's summit in Hamburg on Thursday.

Turkey has closed down at least 150 media organizations and imprisoned about the same number of journalists, a process that gained speed in the wake of July's failed military coup attempt and the sweeping emergency powers granted to the government.

The government has traditionally used draconian anti-terror laws to target mainly Kurdish journalists covering the conflict between the state and outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). As part of the crackdown on alleged supporters of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for the coup attempt, the scope of those journalists defined as "terrorists" and a threat to national security has snowballed to include bastions of opposition media such as daily "Cumhuriyet."

Turkey - Death of Press Freedom? (15.09.2016)

Trials in such cases can typically be a long and drawn-out process disrupting and destroying lives along the way. Even when journalists are released pending trial there is a chilling effect on media, including self-censorship.

Parallel to the closure of media organizations and arrest of journalists, the media landscape in Turkey has consolidated around pro-government and nationalist outlets, many owned by the large holding companies of businessmen close to the government.

"With the plurality of voices lost in Turkey there is only media supporting the government's view and no outlet to challenge or offer different views," Mijatovic said. "This is creating a society that is also suffering."

According to a poll published by the pollster AKAM in November, 95 percent of respondents said they had no trust in the media. The media is the second most distrusted institution after the judiciary, which only 3 percent of respondents in the poll said they trusted.

The international community's concerns over the deteriorating media situation in Turkey are hamstrung by larger political interests, such the EU-Turkey refugee deal and civil war in Syria.

In addition to the media situation being "catastrophic," Mijatovic said it was also "embarrassing not just for Turkey but for the international community." The Turkish government continues to ignore international concerns, she said.

"Turkish journalists feel abandoned by democracies, the EU and international organizations," Mijatovic said. "I do not think the international community is doing enough."

While the OSCE can only monitor, convey concerns to the Turkish government and support journalists on the ground, Mijatovic urged Turkey's partners to make a "strong political push," especially through the European Commission and NATO.