It’s Working Journalists Day. But No Turkish Media Left To Celebrate

Turkish media is on a life support, if not dead. Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidated the power following a constitutional amendment in 2010, at least 10,000 media workers lost their jobs, according to data provided by Bianet, a news portal.

That did not stop Turkish president from celebrating Working Journalists Day of journalists, some of whom may receive the congratulatory statement in prison. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the unbiased and free media is one of the important pillars of democratic, transparent and advanced states.

The transformation of the Turkish media, from the vibrant mechanism that holds authorities accountable into a loyalist mouthpiece, was fast. Only in a decade, Turkish people have witnessed the purchase of large media holdings by businessmen in Erdogan’s inner circle, such as ATV and Sabah, now major government bulletins.

Media outlets that are big to swallow are cowed into submission, such as Dogan media, which is walking a fine line to preserve its long-held independence and avoid angering the government. Many critics, however, frame the Dogan group as a pro-government media conglomerate. Some claim that it’s hurting the media by normalizing the repressive press climate.

A case in point, Dogan group’s flagship newspaper Hurriyet sacked its representative in Washington on Tuesday, Tolga Tanis. Many anticipated such a move after the reporter wrote a column about how significant amount of material used in bomb-making from Turkey ended up in ISIS stocks in Mosul. Hurriyet, for example, is yet to publish a story about 649 academics, who were fired from their universities last week.

On a day when journalists celebrate their working rights, at least 146 journalists remain behind bars, according to the Platform for Independent Journalism. This is in addition to 48 media workers from state broadcaster TRT, whose names were not made public, except few. The number of imprisoned journalists makes Turkey the world leader. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which employs strict criteria to count imprisoned journalists, says they identified at least 81 journalists in Turkish prisons.

At least 58 journalists are wanted for arrest, most of whom are in exile, and scores of others live in exile out of fear that they will end up in jail if they return home. Last week, Erdogan signed a decree that allows authorities to revoke the citizenship of Turkish nationals abroad if they don’t heed to calls to return to Turkey. Last month, the Turkish authorities also seized assets of 53 journalists, half of whom are already in prison. None of them are convicts yet.

Since the emergency rule declared in Turkey, the crackdown on media has escalated significantly. At least 2,500 journalists lost their jobs and more than 110 journalists were arrested. At least 169 media outlets were sealed, including at least 25 Kurdish TV channels, newspapers and radio stations, since the state of emergency declared on July 20 last year. 20 of them were later restored operations.

At least 780 Turkish journalists lost their press cards last year, according to the Society of Turkish Journalists. The most recent example is the noted reporter Amberin Zaman, whose press card was revoked over a tweet. She is not the only one who faced retribution for what they posted on the social media. At least 3,710 people were detained in the past six months over their posts on Twitter and Facebook, and 1,656 of them were arrested, according to the Interior Ministry. One of them is a Canadian tourist, who was sent to prison for saying on Facebook that Erdogan is jailing journalists.

At least 12 foreign journalists were kicked out of Turkey since 2014, including this reporter. Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Nissenbaum had to leave the country after a brief detention for retweeting a post that the authorities worked hard to hide. Nearly a dozen journalists working for foreign news outlets were detained while covering the war in the southeast, where Kurdish towns and districts were reduced to rubble.

On Twitter, fellow journalists launched a hashtag, Journalists Who Can’t Work Day, to denounce the assault on free speech. It is a Working Journalists Day. But there is no Turkish media left to celebrate.