ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
The 100th anniversary of lifting the censorship of the Turkish press was marked yesterday, under the shadow of several obstacles that continue to stand in the way of a free media today.
Turkey witnessed two conflicting views on the issue of press freedom yesterday. In Ankara, a group of intellectuals staged a protest against the closing down of television channel Hayat TV on the grounds that a Kurdish television channel was benefiting from its broadcasts, in line with a government-sponsored decision. Meanwhile, messages were delivered by political figures praising the importance of freedom of the press.
�[I don't know] how meaningful it is to celebrate the removal of censorship in the press in an environment in which people could easily be wiretapped although the laws say otherwise and the freedom of communication and communication security can't be realized,� said Nazmi Bilgin, chairman of the Federation of Journalists.
The issue of censorship of the media has been the topic of heated debate in the country for many years. According to the Press Freedom Index 2007, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based international NGO that advocates freedom of the press, European Union-hopeful Turkey ranks 101st among 169 countries in terms of press freedoms.
Press freedom, which is regarded by many as a clear indicator of the implementation of human rights in a country, is not considered strong in Turkey by most circles in the national and international era. Many point to the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, the blocking of popular video-sharing Web site You Tube, and uncertainties surrounding the mysterious deaths of a long list of journalists that includes Abdi İpekçi, Çetin Emeç, Uğur Mumcu, Bahriye Üçok, Muammer Aksoy, Onat Kutlar, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and Hrant Dink.
�The battle to punish those who kill journalists is vital [to achieving free press],� added the Reporters Without Borders report.
No free and democratic press
In a written statement yesterday, Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan emphasized the importance of the struggle against censorship to achieving democracy, while President Abdullah Gül said Turkey had made important progress towards becoming an open society and that all opinions and national problems could be freely expressed and discussed.
Journalists and academics were not, however, so optimistic about the statements by top political figures.
�The intolerance displayed by the ruling parties against criticisms and free media unfortunately continues in Turkey,� said the Turkish JournalistsUnion, orTGS, in a written statement yesterday. �The number of journalists who feature adverse opinions with the ruling party and were taken into custody for alleged claims that they disrupt the government is increasing.�
Turgay Olcayto, a journalist for 47 years and the vice president of the Turkish Journalists Association, or, TGC, said Turkey's outlook on free speech was not promising.
�Journalists can't express their opinions due to self-censorship because of restrictions by laws, some editorial reasons and their close relation with the political parties,� he said. �Amid such a turbulence (caused by Ergenekon case), the public can't also access to right information and lose its confidence in media. We used to talk about the �holding media' in the past, while now there exists a government monopoly.�
Some media experts also said the detention of members of the media without a concrete indictment as part of the Ergenekon investigation has intimidated many of their colleagues, dissuading journalists from pursuing the issue and being able to provide accurate information to the public.
According to Aslı Tunç, a communications professor at Bilgi University, despite attempts to adjust to EU laws, there is still no truly democratic press in Turkey. She said lack of legal protection of journalists, particularly due to a lack of unions, and weak free speech rights have left journalists vulnerable to all kinds of economic and social forces. �Self-censorship among columnists, reporters, political cartoonists is extremely common,� she said. �Conscientious objection, for instance, as a human right, is still a taboo in Turkish media.�