Prognosis | Freedom House


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The Gezi events and the December corruption scandal have reinforced the AK Party leadership’s historic sense of victimhood and its fear of another coup. With the military marginalized, its suspicions are primarily focused on the many members of the judiciary and the police that are affiliated with their former allies in the Gülen movement. At the same time, they are stepping up attacks on freedom of expression. Proposed amendments to Law 5651 regulating the Internet, under discussion in parliament at the time of writing, would allow government officials to order websites blocked for “violations of privacy” without a court order. This would be a flagrant rejection of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled on this issue in a case against Turkey in December 2012. Unless the prime minister and his advisers change course, tensions will grow, with additional revelations of corruption likely and the country preparing for three critical elections (for local office in March 2014, president in August 2014, and parliament in June 2015). One of the most pernicious effects of the widespread firings of reporters and editors from the “mainstream” media is that there are fewer moderate voices to be heard.The result is an increasingly shrill and divisive media— and public debate—split into “Erdoğanist” loyalists and polemical critics.

In the medium term, there are reasons for hope, especially if the United States and other members of the international community do more to support and defend Turkey’s democracy. The clash between the powerful Gülen movement and the AK Party has opened more space for critical reporting as well as criticism of the government, despite the government’s best efforts to silence debate. The rise of social media provides a new platform for journalists to challenge the government’s claims and voice their opinions. After her firing from Sabah in December, Nazlı Ilıcak cited her Twitter reach, saying, “I have 500,000 followers. That’s more than Sabah’s circulation.” Most important, there is a new generation of media outlets developing, with a strong commitment to more balanced reporting.

Gezi also showed there is a strong demand in Turkey for professional news and journalists willing to stand up to government pressure. The news site T24 has become a refuge for fired journalists and has seen its readership quintuple from 25,000 to 125,000 this year. Upstart sites like Vagus. TV, founded by journalist Serdar Akinan, incorporate user-generated video and commentary. The dramatic changes in Turkey’s politics, economy, and media present an opportunity for entrepreneurs, international foundations, and development agencies to invest in Turkey’s media market.

Turkey’s business community has an important role to play. The current crisis notwithstanding, the long-term promise of increasing European investment remains a guiding incentive for business leaders to press the government to support legal reforms, including more transparent procurement practices. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated between the United States and Europe, provides an opportunity for a parallel investment pact between Turkey and the United States. If approached with rigorous standards that condition agreement on greater accountability and transparency in government, these processes could help promote institutional development and a more democratic political system.