Turkey commemorates Press Day on 24 July, marking the ending of Sultan Abdulhamid II’s strict press censorship in 1908. However, the current climate for journalists in the country is far from celebratory. Recent events have shown a trend of media suppression, with the government’s approach to censorship drawing comparisons to the era of Sultan Abdulhamid II.
The reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II was marked by severe restrictions on press freedom, with newspapers often shut down for minor infractions. However, the spirit of Press Day is overshadowed by the current government’s restrictive policies.
Critics argue that a recent law passed by the Turkish government, dubbed the ‘Punishment and Censorship of Freedom of Expression Law’ is a tool to silence dissent and dominate narrative via the imposition of controls on publications, including restrictions on social media, especially in the run-up to elections.
The law includes a provision to punish anyone with 1 to 3 years in prison who “publicly disseminates false information about the internal and external security of the country, public order, and general health, with the intention of creating fear, anxiety, or panic among the public”. Analysts warn that the law can be stretched to prosecute almost anyone the government opposes, putting citizens at risk and potentially undermining election security.
Recent instances of press suppression further highlight the precarious situation of journalists in Turkey. Seventeen Kurdish journalists and a media worker are currently on trail in the country, accused of being members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The charges are a thinly veiled attempt to criminalise journalism, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.
Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ became yet another victim of the government’s crackdown on free speech. Yanardağ, known for his critical stance against the government, was arrested over his political commentary. Similarly, journalist Sinan Aygül was hospitalised after the Mayor of Tatvan’s bodyguards attacked him, illustrating physical dangers faced by journalists in the country.
The European Union was urged, in a collective statement signed by internationally renowned media associations, to prioritise press freedom and human rights in relations with Turkey after the Turkish government passed the ‘Disinformation Law’.
The law is also expected to acutely impact local news outlets by impeding income from official advertisements – a major revenue source for local news agencies – by 75 percent. This could lead to around 8,000 job losses and a significant reduction in income for approximately 1,000 newspapers.