In an open letter addressed to the incoming Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union published on Wednesday, a coalition of international organisations advocating for journalism urged European governments and policymakers to prioritise the improvement of media freedoms and fundamental rights in future relations with Turkey.
Failing to do so would not only betray the Turkish public but also compromise the values upheld by the European Union, the organisations said.
The call came after veteran Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ was arrested on 27 June over criticisms made on live TV regarding the absolute isolation imposed on Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan in Turkey’s Imrali island prison.
The 20 signatories stressed that over the past two decades, the Turkish government has gained control of more than 90 percent of the media landscape in the country, including direct influence on state-backed agencies and indirect control over mainstream media through party-aligned oligarchs.
It was emphasised that the official broadcast regulator in Turkey essentially has been weaponised by imposing financial penalties on news outlets that engage in reporting perceived controversial or damaging for the government.
“The capture of mainstream media has been backed by a mass crackdown on independent media, including the arrests and prosecutions of thousands of journalists in the years since the failed coup of 2016. As the country went to the polls on 14 May, at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey, including 31 Kurdish journalists arrested since June 2022 alone,” the statement read.
Journalists in Turkey face physical assaults, harassment on social media from politicians, and smear campaigns orchestrated by government-aligned media, the statement read. Police regularly arrest journalists who cover protests and impede free reporting.
Citing the Mapping Media Freedom database, which tracks media freedom violations across EU member states and candidate countries, the organisations said that there were 173 recorded alerts related to Turkey since July 2022, constituting nearly one-fifth of total alerts.
The statement also mentioned recent amendments made to the disinformation law in 2022, including provisions for imprisoning individuals for up to three years on charges of spreading “disinformation or fake news” that -allegedly- threatens national security, public order, or public morals.
The vague definition of “disinformation” has empowered a compromised judiciary to exploit the law and target political opponents, according to the media freedom organisations.