«Stifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom Yavuz Baydar Columnist, Today's Zaman; Co-Founder, P24, Platform for Independent Journalism; Recipient, ...»
Stifling the Media:
Barriers to Press
Columnist, Today's Zaman; Co-Founder, P24, Platform for Independent Journalism;
Recipient, Special Award of the European Press Prize
Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
Writer, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship (2012-14)
Chair: John Lloyd
Contributing Editor, Financial Times; Director of Journalism, Reuters Institute for the
Study of Journalism 20 May 2014 The views expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the speaker(s) and participants do not necessarily reflect the view of Chatham House, its staff, associates or Council. Chatham House is independent and owes no allegiance to any government or to any political body. It does not take institutional positions on policy issues. This document is issued on the understanding that if any extract is used, the author(s)/ speaker(s) and Chatham House should be credited, preferably with the date of the publication or details of the event. Where this document refers to or reports statements made by speakers at an event every effort has been made to provide a fair representation of their views and opinions. The published text of speeches and presentations may differ from delivery.
10 St James’s Square, London SW1Y 4LE T +44 (0)20 7957 5700 F +44 (0)20 7957 5710 www.chathamhouse.org Patron: Her Majesty The Queen Chairman: Stuart Popham QC Director: Dr Robin Niblett Charity Registration Number: 208223 2 Stifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom John Lloyd Welcome to this session on Stifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom. We’re lucky tonight to have with us, just on my immediate right, Yavuz Baydar, who was a columnist for, and also an ombudsman on one of the big Turkish papers, who was fired some time ago, about a year ago for a column he wrote. Since then, he’s been very active in creating a new platform for media and has written widely, both in the Guardian here and in other papers elsewhere about democracy and the media in Turkey about which at the moment he’s a considerable pessimist.
On my left is James Deane, who created and ran the Panos network, but now is head of BBC Media Action. He’s head of policy and learning at BBC Media Action. BBC Media Action isn’t actually funded by the BBC, but it exists to assist journalism and media everywhere, especially in developing states. On the far right is Kirsty Hughes, who until very recently, until last month, was head of Index on Censorship.
I should make a few announcements first. This is on the record, not Chatham House rules. Since this isn’t Turkey, you can tweet whatever you wish, and unless the speaker says that he or she doesn’t want to be quoted, then you may quote. We’ll have them speak for about half an hour, about 10 minutes or so each. I’ll try to keep them to that, and then we will open out to you to ask questions and to talk about what your views on media freedom, both in Turkey and elsewhere are.
I’m going to start with Yavuz. Over to you.
Yavuz Baydar Thank you. Welcome, all. We have been noting, as all of you have been noting, a dramatic decline in media freedom, press freedom in Turkey in the past 24 months perhaps to speak roughly. If you go back to 2011, 2012, particularly after the latest general elections in 2011, June, we have been noting this systematic consistent decline of those freedoms.
Before that, there has been a period of hope during the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP Party, which by way of EU accession process enhanced freedoms, the debate, public debate was much more free in terms of breaking the taboos. Some form of reconciliation process had started and Kurdish issue, Armenian issue, several other issues were brought to the surface. People who until then were afraid to speak out or to share ideas to debate those issues lost their fear and joined the debate.
That was a period, also media professionals were very hopeful, optimistic about changes to come, particularly about reforming the TRT, the Cold War structured state broadcast into a public broadcaster and also changing the structures of media ownership and concentration so that there would be fair competition, transparency and also editorial independence as never seen before.
But those dreams are now gone or suspended for the time being. We have seen a lot of reporting on jailed journalists. We have seen deterioration of what I call the main bulk of the Turkish media since Gezi Park protests, and we have also seen lately bans and restrictions on the virtual domain.
3 Stifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom If you look at the… Let’s take four steps, four dimensions. We usually, as media monitors, look at the four criteria when we analyse the situation of the media in any country. This is safety, second is diversity/ plurality, third is freedom and fourth is independence.
Regarding diversity/ pluralism, Turkish media doesn’t seem to offer any problematic views. We have one of the largest media sectors in Europe, with about $500 billion in ad revenues annually. Print losing, digital winning, and audio-visual very strong, and with about 250 private TV channels, more than 1,300 private radio stations all across the country, about 2,000 local newspapers. Also we have about 51 per cent national internet penetration, with 70 plus per cent in greater urban areas and widespread social media usage.
I should also add the ridiculous element of Turkey leading the top league of the world with more than 19 24/7 news channels. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd, because it is not sustainable. The only country comparable to Turkey in those terms is Albania, and this is sort of mindless competition in that area.
So diversity/ pluralism, which is now being more and more used as a counter-argument by government and pro-government pundits does seem to cut it, but it does not because more and more in the past 24 months, we have seen commercial media acting as a univocal orchestra, if you will, saying the same things. If you zip through the television channels, news programmes, you always see the same people, same stories, same kind of narrowed down scope of coverage and also self censorship widespread and heavily on a daily basis used.
Regarding safety of journalism, journalists rather, we have not been noting dramatic declines, apart from the fact that during Gezi Park protests, since aftermath, some people were harassed, some professionals, some cameras being taken away, some arrested, etc.
But no more than the average, comparable to the other countries. Problems remain in two remaining criteria: freedom and independence.
Freedom meaning restrictions by law and implementation thereof had been so dramatic as of two to three years ago that we had reached the peak of 90 some people jailed, most of whom are Kurds or leftists in partisan press. That number is now systematically declining. More and more people are being released from jail. Lately, as noted by committee to protect journalists in December 2013, the number was 40. But since December, more and more people in groups were released.
Now according to CPJ’s latest posted notice on their website, it says 16. That figure is sort of contradicted by Reporters Sans Frontieres cooperative in Turkey, cooperation partner in Turkey, BIA which says it is between 20 and 25. This decline is explained by the fact that the government intends to continue the Kurdish peace process. Therefore, more and more these journalists, publishers, editors, activists/ journalists are being released.
On the contrary, the independence criteria seems to be the intensely worsening part of Turkish media. As we have seen in Gezi Park… Let me take it from the beginning. After the general elections in 2011 with the violent campaign of PKK led to a meeting in Ankara, PM calling editors and proprietors of media in the autumn of 2011, and more or less discussing with them and ordering them, checking their pulses to impose censorship, selfStifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom censorship, which proprietors willingly joined and they even proposed themselves that there would be some sort of censorship council to block the news.
This was proved to be very successful when 34 Kurdish villagers were bombed to death by Turkish fighter jets later that year, just the turn of that year. There was a complete blackout of news in the national media for more than 17 hours. We could only find out about what happened through social media. Then the situation continued to deteriorate because PM and government had passed the test, if you will, to kneel down the conventional main bulk of the media by way of willing voluntary proprietors who could control more and more the newsrooms. This led to a dramatic development when Gezi Park protests started a year ago.
At that time, as you know, Penguin documentaries, etc., showed the elite public of Turkey apart from the others, elite public of Turkey had until then ignored the censorship regarding Kurds, etc., suddenly realized that their kids, the stories about their kids, dramatic developments were also censored by the national main bulk of the media. That led to protests. That led to somehow an awakening, a realization that there was something really rotten about the Turkish media.
This was of course linked with the fact that for years and years, the media proprietors who had entered the media from other businesses like telecommunications, tourism, etc., with having no idea whatsoever about what journalism is about, what its social role is about, started chasing away the entire trade union activity and membership from their outlets.
Second, appointing systematically people who would only say yes to their daily interventions on editorial decisions, and continued to seek favours from the government by way of public procurement, public tenders, public contracts, which was obviously wonderful felicity wheel, if you will. This led to constantly refreshed unholy alliances between the governments and media providers.
So this was the system, and that system collapsed or became visible. I would not say collapsed, but became visible during Gezi Park protests. Now we have also seen the new pattern that jailings, which called the world’s attention, became more and more replaced by firings and sackings of media professionals who wanted to defend the integrity and ethics of journalism. Since June last year, more than 250 professionals were fired. Firings have been replaced as punitive measures in the medias with Turkey being more visible of it all, but in the Middle East as Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent some months ago, in Arab countries but also in western Balkans.
This is a very serious development that shows that the ownership structures in emerging democracies particularly and also public broadcasting, its importance. Those elements will define the transitional processes because if we have these kind of dirty dealings which pulls media into corruption itself and media proprietors will not be helpful at all for these countries to reach democratic conclusions.
I will speak more about this, but I should end here because I don’t want to extend my time.
5 Stifling the Media: Barriers to Press Freedom John Lloyd Thank you. That last point I think is one that other speakers may well pick up and might be one for discussion but in emerging countries, where there are powerful proprietors who wish to stay on the right side of the government because of contracts, especially as they’ve got as I think they do in Turkey, have corporations which are in construction and other areas other than media. They can act as a surrogate for government when the government cracks down. That’s a worrying sign that isn’t confined to Turkey. Kirsty.
Kirsty Hughes Thanks, John and good evening everybody. I think in a sense where Yavuz ended is where I want to begin with some very simple comments about media and democracy, because I think… I mean the title we’ve been given, ‘key challenges to international media freedoms’ is a huge one. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot to say about them, so let me just focus on a few key points.
I think it’s a very difficult period for media freedom, and I think if we start with the democracy point, I think media freedom is both vital for democracy, it’s a vital component of democracy, it’s also a barometer of democracy. If you see something going wrong as you do in Turkey with media freedom, you understand that there are other problems going wrong with Turkish democracy compared to five years ago, for instance.
So it’s not surprising that where regimes are not democratic at all like Iran or China, that we find worse censorship and restrictions, I think why I say it’s not a difficult period for media freedom is that we also see declining media freedom in too many democracies, whether they may be emerging democracies or established democracies. I think, and this is maybe linked to that fact, we also see less emphasis on media freedom and freedom of speech in democratic countries’ foreign policies. So in Western foreign policy, particularly EU and US, obviously that’s opening up a huge and wider issue in a way, there’s often been more than a degree of hypocrisy in Western pursuit of freedom, democracy, rights in its foreign policy. There are a lot of debates around that.
But I think we’re actually in a period where foreign policy – British foreign policy, American foreign policy, the EU’s foreign policy – is maybe the weakest in many ways it’s been in many years. That’s both a broader subject, but I think it’s actually part of understanding why media freedom internationally may be more under threat than five to 10 years ago in many ways. I think that foreign policy is both weak; I think it’s less strategic and to the extent to which it exists at all still, I think we’re in a more kind of realpolitik period and less rights oriented foreign policy period. I think that’s true.
We talk about the West, or we’re in a multi-polar world now, so that may be not quite the right phrase but I think if we look at India, South Africa, Brazil, there are lots of issues there too around media freedom and around foreign policy.