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It’s a Tough Job Being a Reporter in Turkey

An Opposition Journalist on the Attacks on Press Freedom: "Turkish Democracy has Never Produced a Democratic Culture"

"The AKP government uses countless tactics to buy our silence, but fortunately many opposition journalists still manage to circumvent censorship via the Internet." There are two faces of press freedom in Turkey: one is the opposition media, that risks censorship, arrests and trials without evidence. The other one is the pro-government media, which enjoys complete freedom of action, document production and publication of false information, said Kerim Balcı, Editor-in-chief of Turkish Review, published by the Zaman Media Group, one of the media organisation most affected by Turkish government censorship.



Balcı wrote us from London: "Journalists must be on the lookout, because at any moment their articles could bother the president." In addition to the danger posed to the individual writer, there can be a crackdown on the entire media group, as happened to several television channels, so that it can no longer reach the public. A newspaper or magazine may be banned from sale, as recently happened to the magazine Nokta, or fined with huge additional taxation, like in the case of the Doğan, Bugün and Samanyolu TV groups.



"In any case I believe that it is still better to be part of the opposition, because even if we are in danger, danger, our body, soul and conscience are free."



Balcı is close to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's former ally. Turkey holds the 149th position (out of 180 countries) in the list of the World Press Freedom Index 2015, after Mexico and before the Democratic Republic of Congo.



"All the ways to buy the opposition"



"The AKP's action against journalists and freedom of expression is well organized," said Balcı to Oasis: it is not only a question of violence, arrests and censorship. Its actions are more subtle and strategic, trying to conquer opinions and the consensus of the press.



"The government tries to buy off newspapers, either directly or indirectly".


This happened, for example, to the Turkuvaz group which was bought by some businessmen close to Erdoğan, who in return awarded them contracts. Another strategy is the infiltration of government members in media committees. HaberTürk and NTV are controlled by "consultants" appointed by Erdogan.



"The AKP also places pressure on directors to dismiss journalists who are politically biased against the government." Last year, over 1,500 journalists have been dismissed for this reason. In addition, there is a minimum eleven-month imprisonment for journalists accused of defaming the president and of promoting terrorism.



"A team of AKP members is responsible for attacking opponents through Twitter and social networks," said Balcı, who also points out that violent protests have been organized in front of the offices of many newspapers - Hürriyet, Cumhürriyet and Zaman. He complains of the fact that many opposition media are often refused accreditation for presidential press conferences and cannot ask questions.



"Pressure is also exerted on readers not to buy, read, look at or subscribe to media which do not support the government. Some small businesses are fined if they buy certain newspapers and some large companies that sponsor them, or whose advertising appears on their pages, are threatened by financial inspectors; State-owned companies are no longer advertising through these channels. "There is a digital platform, Digiturk, funded by the state. Some columnists are offered significant political nominations and economic payment if they are willing to switch to a pro-government newspaper. According to Balcı, "This is the most sophisticated and strategically complex silencing technique that history has ever seen."



What kind of democracy?



"Turkish democracy has never produced a democratic culture." According to Balcı, Turkey is democratic only on election day and the concept itself is misused. Justice is freedom and an independent press and unfortunately the Turkish government has prevented the spread of this kind of information. "Elections transparency is called into question by government threats against some TV channels that risk losing their satellite broadcasting capabilities by November 20," said Balcı, who however is still proud of the strength of will of the Turkish people who have never lost hope in the democratic future of the country. Unfortunately, though, in his opinion, Turkish democrats do not get enough support from Western countries and not only in economic terms. Today Europe is concerned about the flow of migrants reaching its gates from Turkey. To convince Ankara to rein in the flux from the Middle East, the European Union is willing to forget about the rest. "This is shameful."



[Twitter: @miglio_franca]