The social and political drama that unfolded around the Gezi Park sit-in and the political scandals that have arisen since provide conclusive and troubling evidence of unacceptable levels of political influence and interference in Turkish journalism. The distorted media coverage of the Gezi Park protests and the backlash against critical and independent voices inside journalism that followed have exposed a culture of self-censorship in journalism that has developed over many years in which there has been legal, political and violent pressure on media.

This self-censorship arises also due to the structure of media ownership, which has created a pool of self-interest for politicians and business leaders, and which in turn compromises ethical journalism. This distorted information landscape undermines efforts to strengthen democracy and pluralism.

The EJN believes that the lack of transparency in the ownership and operations of media and the often corrupt nature of relations between business and politics plays a far more significant role in explaining the failures of mainstream journalism in Turkey than the individual ethics of journalists.

The EJN, with other press freedom groups, believes that the situation is made worse through the intemperate and often intolerant voice of government in Turkey which encourages polarisation in society and which creates a fearful atmosphere for the exercise of journalism. In particular, the adoption of a controversial law on internet use, in February 2014, raises new fears for free speech protection in the country.

Photo Credit: Seamus Travers – Taksim, Taxi’s and Teargas (CC BY 2.0)

Despite all of these difficulties there are positive signs. Journalists and editors are increasingly vocal in their demands for urgent change and for actions to strengthen media freedom, ethical journalism and responsible use of information.

With this in mind, the EJN urges media professional groups in Turkey to build a new partnership and to promote a national dialogue within journalism to promote editorial independence and press freedom at all levels. This dialogue should address the crisis of political interference and the impact of excessive commercialization of media.

As part of this process we recommend more training in editorial leadership; the strengthening of professional associations; and the promotion of transparency and good governance in media based in principles of self-regulation.

The EJN recommends that this new initiative should support actions that will:

1. Promote and strengthen systems of self-regulation inside media, including transparent systems of good governance;
2. Strengthen dialogues between traditional journalism and online media on the need for responsibility in the use of information and for ethical content across the public information space;
3. Support programmes to strengthen independent professional associations of editors, owners and journalists;
4. Consider how best to create independent, credible and effective national systems of self-regulation of journalism covering all platforms of media.

The EJN will support media professional groups in their efforts to build public confidence in journalism by actively combatting internal and external threats to editorial independence and the rights of journalists to report freely. At the same time, the political community also do their part.

The Government should commission an urgent review of all laws that are currently used to restrict or inhibit journalism. Laws that are damaging to free speech and which have a chilling effect on the exercise of journalism should be repealed. The aim should be to create an atmosphere for free, democratic exchange and information pluralism.

At stake in all of this is not just the future of independent journalism in Turkey, but the vision of the country as a modern democratic state and its continued development as a prosperous and thriving democracy.


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