Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by the number of business reporters who are being prosecuted in Turkey. One, Cengiz Erdinç, was going on trial today in a case brought by the Turkish state-owned bank Ziraat, while two Bloomberg correspondents will go on trial in September in connection with their coverage of last year’s currency crisis.
It seems as though almost all subjects are now off limits for the media in Turkey. Covering the economy is certainly getting more dangerous. In a trial opening in Istanbul today, Erdinç is facing a possible jail term for a story for the daily newspaper Yurt in 2016 in which he reported that Ziraat’s New York branch had been forced to stop providing banking services to individuals as a result of an investigation by the US financial authorities.
Contrary to established legal procedure, the Turkish judicial authorities gave the go-ahead for the Ziraat lawsuit without getting approval from the banking authorities first.
This hearing comes just days after another criminal court in Istanbul agreed to indict Bloomberg reporters Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalınkılıç on charges of seeking to “destabilize the economy” at the height of the Turkish financial crisis in August 2018 by reporting evidence of banking panic about a fall in the Turkish lira that was “without precedent since 2001.”
The indictment names 36 other people, including the journalists Mustafa Sönmez, Merdan Yanardağ and Sedef Kabaş, for tweeting about the article. All are facing up to five years in prison under Turkey’s law on financial markets in a trial due to get under way in Istanbul on 20 September.
Covering financial issues has always been difficult under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but these prosecutions represent a new escalation. Many investigative journalists have been prosecuted in the past over their corruption reporting, but now it is basic business and economic reporting that is being targeted. Previously, it was unusual for journalists to be prosecuted under Turkey’s banking and financial markets laws.
“Turkey has nothing to gain by burying its head in the sand,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said. “On the contrary, reliable information, transparency and restoration of the rule of law are the surest way to inspire confidence in investors. The general interest would be best served by ending these prosecutions and respecting the work of journalists.”
As the rule of law is steadily dismantled in Turkey, the situation of its media has become increasingly precarious, especially since a coup attempt in July 2016. Ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison.