Ever since the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party back in 2003 Turkey has been presented as a modern and mostly democratic state – a political model for the region.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda party in Tunisia often say Erdogan and the AKP have proved that parties like theirs, which seek a greater role for Islam in politics, can govern and preserve democratic values.
But Turkey’s image is suffering as a result of the prime minister’s heavy-handed approach with Turkish journalists who refuse to toe the line.
A country of 75 million, Turkey has a multiplicity of media voices – 250 private channels, more than 40 national daily papers, hundreds of radio stations – most seem to adopt the party line; the exceptions, and there are a few, feel the heat.
In recent years, Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country, thanks to the liberally interpreted anti-terrorism law, a law that highlights deep structural problems within the Turkish legal system.
In January 2013, 11 journalists were arrested during a raid on a Marxist political party meeting. Police said the group were planning to attack and murder government officials. Five of them were sentenced to jail, joining the 64 media persons already behind bars.
In the run up to the recently announced ceasefire between the biggest Kurdish Party, the PKK and the Turkish government, sensitivity over coverage was at its height – just days before the announcement, a prominent columnist, Hasan Cemal, suddenly disappeared from the pages of a leading paper, Milliyet.
And Erdogan’s cozy relationship with conglomerates means he can squeeze the ones that own media outlets from all kinds of different angles.
To investigate Ankara’s agenda for the media, Listening Post’s Flo Phillips reports from Istanbul on the red lines that restrict Turkish journalism, and are even starting to affect entertainment programmes on television.
To discuss Turkey’s deteriorating state of press freedom, we speak with Yavuz Baydar, of Sabah newspaper; author Andrew Finkel; writer and political commentator Ece Temelkuran; and columnist for Hurriyet newspaper Mustafa Akyol.
“The reason why there are so many journalists in jail is about Turkey’s not so democratically minded anti-terrorism law …. The great majority of the journalists in jail, are people who wrote things that are positive about the PKK, and Turkish legal system considered these as a crime.”
– Mustafa Akyol, a columnist with the Hurriyet newspaper