We are going through the darkest and gloomiest days in terms of freedom of the press, which is a major benchmark for democracy and the rule of law. Intellectuals, businesspeople, celebrities, civil society organizations (CSOs), media organizations and journalists are being silenced via threats and blackmail.
We have entered the last phase in terms of pressure on those who persistently remain independent in their publications. Journalists are now frequenting courts, not their newsrooms. A significant proportion of the journalists who have been detained and faced lawsuits again and again are still in prison.
Cumhuriyet newspaper Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül are the latest victims of this campaign. They were released following a ruling by the Constitutional Court after remaining in custody for three months. Yet, there are premonitions that could take the wind out of the sails of those who support democracy. Indeed, the courts came under heavy fire soon after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that he did not respect the decision and would not obey it. “They will be arrested again,” pro-government lobbies are parroting.
Two TV channels from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, Bengütürk TV and İMC TV, have recently been dropped from the state-run communications satellite Türksat. The same practice has previously been used to target TV channels from the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group and the İpek Media Group. Dozens of TV channels have thereby been effectively silenced.
Another method for silencing the media is to appoint trustees to run media organizations. In the run-up to the parliamentary election of June 7, 2015, government caretakers were appointed to Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, which constituted two of the few independent media outlets in Turkey. The trustees made two newspapers and two TV channels go bankrupt a few days ago.
However, all national laws including the Constitution of the Turkish Republic and the international agreements that are binding upon us provide comprehensive guarantees for freedom of the press and with it, the right access to information. Article 26 of the Constitution safeguards freedom of expression and thought and Articles 28 and 30 advocate freedom of the press; both are very clear. “A printing house and its annexes, duly established as a press enterprise under law, and press equipment shall not be seized, confiscated or barred from operation on the grounds of having been used in a crime,” reads Article 30, which also guarantees freedom of enterprise and investment. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is binding on Turkish courts.
Turkey's highest circulating newspaper, Zaman, and its sister publication Today's Zaman have come under serious pressure for more than two years, which has taken the form of accreditation bans, tax inspections, meddling with its advertisers and threats to its readers. We have now been threatened with confiscation through the appointment of trustees. We are deeply concerned about all these developments that undermine Turkey's democratic performance. We believe the only way out of this nightmarish atmosphere is to return to democracy and the rule of law. We are publishing our concerns to inform the Turkish nation, intellectuals who believe in democracy and the wider world.
Published on Today's Zaman, 4 March 2016, Friday