FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND THE MEDIA IN TURKEY
Freedom of expression and the media is safeguarded by Turkey’s Constitution and other relevant legislation. Therefore, important steps have been taken in recent years both in law and in practice to expand the scope of the freedom of expression and the media in Turkey to bring it more in line with that of the European Union.
Significant amendments were introduced to the Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Press Law ensuring the compatibility of domestic laws with the European Court of Human Rights standards and universal norms.
With respect to media organizations, a complete pluralism exists in Turkey. Turkish media sector is growing day by day, some of which are supportive of the Government while others are not. In Turkey there are 6,800 newspapers and journals and 263 TV stations and 1,058 radio stations that reach national and local audiences. Majority of these media outlets regularly issue diverse opinions and news coverage.
Persons Referred to as “Journalists in Prison”
In Turkey no journalist nor member of any media group is prosecuted or imprisoned on account of his journalistic work. All those referred to as “journalists in prison” have been charged with serious crimes.
The latest “Committee to Protect Journalist” (CPJ) report, published on December 17, 2014, refers 7 persons as the “journalists in prison” in Turkey. However, none of these persons are prosecuted on account of their journalistic work. On the contrary, 5 individuals, none of whom has a press card, are convicted of crimes that have nothing to do with journalism such as homicide, injury, bank robbery, placing explosive substances, forgery, attacking the security forces with molotov cocktails. It should also be noted that 2 of those in the CPJ list have already been released.
Labelling certain judicial processes as politically motivated or ideologically driven is unfounded. Separation of powers and the independence of judiciary are under Constitutional safeguards. As in any country governed by the rule of law, judiciary is independent from the legislative and executive powers.
Prosecution and conviction of journalists are not uncommon in Europe. All these are ordinary legal processes that are also happening in other western countries. For instance;
Following the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the UK, news editor of the said newspaper, Ian Edmondson was sentenced to eight months in jail over phone hacking in November 2014.
In the hacking trial, Dan Evans, journalists at the News of the World received a 10-month sentence, suspended for a year, and 200 hours of community service on account of phone hacking and Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World was sentenced to 18 months in jail for conspiring to hack phones in 2014. Coulson was released from prison after serving nearly 5 months in jail.
There are also other similar cases in Italy and Greece as well as the US. For example;
Francesco Gangemi, the 79 year-old editor of the monthly magazine Il Dibattito (the Debate) and Alessandro Sallusti, editor-in-chief of the Milan-based daily are imprisoned on charges such as libel, perjury and criminal defamation. Likewise, Kostas Vaxevanis, a Greek investigative journalist is also imprisoned for libel.
Barrekk Brown, a US journalist has been sentenced to 63 months of imprisonment in January 2015 for involvement in activities of a “hactivist” group called “Anonymous”. There are many more journalists in the US who has been imprisoned in the past.
14 December 2014 Investigation :
The recent detention and arrests by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office are part of a legitimate investigation initiated as a result of complaints by a religious group called “Tahsiye” that suggest a campaign against it by some media outlets and some members of the police force based on forgery of evidence and slander.
Some of the detained persons were journalists. However, the grounds for detention had nothing to do with their journalistic work. They were questioned as suspects. Subsequently, most of them were released. Of those detained, all, except 4, were released.
Allegations on the Internet Law / Social Media:
In the case of decisions of restrictions on some social media in Turkey, there have been Turkish court decisions which relate to violations of personal rights, of right to privacy, of the secrecy of an ongoing terror and criminal investigation, national security and public order.
In the most recent case, Turkish courts ordered the removal of content of internet sites which published the images of Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, being held hostage at gunpoint by terrorists, who was later murdered by the same terrorists who were members of the terrorist group that mounted a bomb attack against the US Embassy in Ankara. The image which appeared on the internet was taken by the terrorists. The Court further ordered if the content removal was not technically possible, then access to aforementioned internet sites be blocked, on grounds of inter alia national security and public order.
The Court order was notified on 6 April 2015 by the Access Providers Union to all internet sites which published these images, requesting the removal of this particular content. Facebook complied with Court order within the prescribed time limit (4 hours) and removed the requested content and thus faced no restrictions.
However, Twitter and YouTube did not remove the content requested thus not abiding by the court order within the prescribed time limit. As a last resort, access to Twitter and YouTube was blocked in accordance with the court order. Following the blocks, talks between relevant Turkish authorities and Twitter and YouTube continued. The companies decided to comply with the court order and accordingly removed the content in question, hence the blocks to said sites were lifted all within the same day.
Facebook has already designated a representative in Turkey, which led to a sound working relationship with this company. There is also a need to establisha sound cooperation mechanism with the other social media companies to find workable solutions to delicate matters.
Other examples of removal requests from other countries:
As for Twitter, removal requests by the Governments and other authorities are quite common in the world. Some examples:
Germany: In October 2013, Twitter blocked Neo-Nazi accounts upon the request of the German Government. Thus, Twitter applied “country-withheld content” rule for the first time. This rule means that the relevant content was blocked throughout Germany – or the country requesting a restriction on the content- although access was allowed in the other countries.
France: On 19 October 2012, Friday, Twitter removed anti- Semitic and racist tweets written and circulating in France. #UnBonJuif (#AGoodJew) tagged tweets included photos about Holocaust. Twitter removed these contents following the statement of the Union des Etudiants Juifs de France (UEJF) that they would file a case.
UK: British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that access to Twitter might be blocked in order to prevent sharing provocative contents during the riots that broke out in 2011, but no measure was taken as the riots calmed down.
Independent Industrialists & Businessman’s Association