Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
While efforts to meet European Union (EU) membership requirements have resulted in the passing of positive reforms, including a new Press Law in 2004, the greater national debate over Turkey’s accession to the EU has fueled a nationalist movement that is driving a legalistic crackdown on free expression by journalists and writers. Constitutional provisions for freedom of the press and of expression exist but in practice are only partially upheld and have been increasingly undermined by the more restrictive measures of the new Turkish penal code, which came into force in June 2005.
According to Bianet, a Turkish press freedom organization, the number of prosecuted journalists, publishers, and activists rose to 293 in 2006 versus 157 in 2005. The same organization reports that 72 individuals were tried in 2006 under the new penal code’s especially controversial Article 301 alone. This provision allows for prison terms of six months to three years for “the denigration of Turkishness” and has been used to charge journalists for crimes such as stating that genocide was committed against the Armenians in 1915, discussing the division of Cyprus, or writing critically on the security forces. Book publishers, translators, and authors have also faced prosecution for “insulting Turkish identity.” Among the most prominent cases is that of Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian weekly Agos, who was prosecuted for a second time under Article 301 in July 2006 following an interview with Reuters news agency where he confirmed his recognition of Armenian genocide allegations. In a more hopeful development, charges brought under the same article against Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize–winning Turkish novelist, were dropped in January 2006. Article 277 of the penal code was invoked to charge several journalists covering controversial court cases with “attempting to influence court decisions,” including Hrant Dink and four of his Agos colleagues for their coverage of a judge’s decision to ban a conference on the Armenian genocide. Article 216 penalizes “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and has been used against journalists who write about the Kurdish population. Human rights groups report that nationalist lawyers groups, such as the Turkish Union of Lawyers and Unity of Jurists, are leading the push for prosecutions.
Pressure from the EU and international press freedom watchdog groups prompted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to declare his commitment to revising Article 301 in September, but at year’s end no progress had been made on this. Erdogan himself continued to launch defamation suits against members of the media, however, filing a total of 59 cases in 2006. Rights groups report that the total number of defamation cases increased from 2005, along with the fines issued as punishments. Convictions against journalists are made much less frequently than are prosecutions, but trials are time-consuming and expensive. A total of seven convictions were made for charges under Article 301 in 2006.
Causing further alarm, the Parliament approved amendments to the Antiterror Law in June that allow for imprisoning journalists for up to three years for the dissemination of statements and propaganda by terrorist organizations. The new legislation raises concerns that the broad definition of terrorism could allow for arbitrary prosecutions, particularly for members of the pro-Kurdish press who are sometimes charged with collaborating with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). For example, Rustu Demirkaya, a reporter with the pro-Kurdish news agency DIHA, was charged with collaborating with the PKK in June and then with disseminating terrorist propaganda for covering the return of an army private who had been kidnapped by the PKK in August. Journalist Ilyas Aktas, reportedly threatened by the police previously, was shot amid violent clashes between Kurdish demonstrators and security forces in southeastern Turkey in April and died a few weeks later.
The Supreme Council of Radio and Television, whose members are elected by the Parliament, has the authority to sanction broadcasters if they are not in compliance with the law or its expansive broadcasting principles. It is frequently subject to political pressure. Censorship is not explicit, but editors and journalists practice self-censorship out of fear of violating legal restrictions; Turkish press freedom advocates contend that self-censorship has become even more prevalent as a result of the onslaught of prosecutions under the new penal code. Further, media are highly concentrated in four major conglomerates, which subtly pressure their editors and journalists to refrain from reporting that will harm their business interests. This could include avoiding criticism of the government or potential advertisers, both of which could have contracts with other arms of the companies.
Turkey’s broadcast media are well developed, with hundreds of private television channels, including cable and satellite as well as commercial radio stations. State television and radio provide limited broadcasting in minority languages, including Kurdish; this marked a major step forward for freedom of expression, although critics say that the broadcasts are too restricted and quality is poor. The quality of Turkish media is low, but independent domestic and foreign print media are able to provide diverse views, including criticism of the government and its policies. An estimated 21 percent of the Turkish population was able to access the internet in 2006, and the government refrains from restricting the internet, although on occasion it has accessed user records in the name of national security. Police must obtain permission from a judge or higher authority before obtaining such information.