Media Freedom: Contested Legacy of a Concept in Turkey
From the late Ottoman era to today’s Turkey, the state of media freedom has never been secure amid incessant political pressure from the palace or governments.
Though the wheel of history sometimes rolls down in reversal cycles, it is still surprising to see that the progress of the past decades in terms of media freedom has suffered remarkable setbacks on a global scale at such a pace. The whole world, including the advanced Western democracies, and most notably the U.S., stands a tough trial in the face of political winds of populism, resurgent strident nationalism, and concerted efforts on both sides of the political aisle to test the most fundamental institution of social conduct: truth.
No place other than Turkey could offer a better example to encapsulate polar opposites of the two extremes played out in plain sight: the eye-catching pace of novel democratic reforms during the 2000s and disappointing setbacks of the past years in terms of almost everything; democracy, rule of law, free speech and the mechanism of truth.
Only over the past three months, Turkey saw courts handing down convictions and jail terms to scores of journalists mostly from the Zaman daily, and a dozen personnel from the Cumhuriyet newspaper. As recently as two weeks ago, 10 Turkish journalists from Zaman received 9 or 10 years of prison sentences en masse. And in June, four former Zaman writers were handed down life sentences. Life sentences to journalists. For a number of articles, columns, and tweets.
Needless to say, mass convictions were another nail in the coffin of the suffocating world of media in Turkey, a testimony to an unpleasant reality that firmly took hold in the aftermath of a coup in 2016.
And what was more jarring was the fact that some convictions came on the same day with the World Press Freedom Day, on April 24. Amnesty International decried the pernicious effects of the state of emergency on media and civil society. In a riveting report, the London-based rights group noted, emergency rule laws and measures create a “ chilling climate of fear “ across the society.