May 6, 2015

EU should make media freedom membership criteria, says CPJ rep

In a panel organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNS) and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) in Brussels on Wednesday, Jean-Paul Marthoz, the European Union representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), asked the EU to make media freedom an indispensable criterion for membership.

CPJ panel on press freedom in Turkey

After raising concerns about media freedoms in Turkey, Marthoz said the CPJ is serious about the absolute necessity to take serious measures regarding violations of media freedom. “This is not a position against Turkey; it is in favor of democracy,” he said, arguing that the expectation to respect European principles is not interference in Turkish affairs, noting that such a step is also necessary for Hungary, which suffers from similar problems.

When asked about the possibility that Turkey is no longer interested in EU membership, Marthoz said the reform process has been undermined seriously in Turkey, but that they cannot stop supporting “the people who represent the best of Turkey who are in favor of democracy.”

The joint panel on the threat against media freedom in the EU and its neighbors also hosted Zaman and Today's Zaman columnist Sevgi Akarçeşme and Hungarian journalist Attila Mong as speakers. The presentations of both journalists displayed a striking similarity between the deteriorating track of the two countries.

Akarçeşme referred to the latest media watchdog reports regarding the pressure on Turkish media, but noted that she does not need the figures from these alarming reports to understand the dismal state of media freedom in Turkey. She personally experiences the pressure every single day. After summarizing the increasing rate of persecution of journalists and the number of problems with media ownership in Turkey, Akarçeşme said there has been an unprecedented undermining of the rule of law in Turkey with the recent arrests of judges in the country. In response to a question, she pointed out the lack of solidarity in the Turkish media and said that democracy is a project in the making and things will not get better with a magic touch.

Pointing to Hungary's striking resemblance to Turkey, Mong talked about the tools that the Hungarian government used by Viktor Orban to establish control over the media, from granting ads to pro-government media outlets to encouraging government-friendly businesspeople to own media companies.

“It is a strange feeling to be in the same league with countries within the lower league,” Mong said as he included Turkey in the letter. He said President Orban has been trying to establish an illiberal democracy in Hungary.

According to Marthoz, the European Commission should use all its powers to change the situation in Hungary.

Published on Today's Zaman, 06 May 2015, Wednesday