News

August 14, 2018

New witch hunt against journalists feared in Turkey

Credit: Yasin Akgül / AFP

Given the Turkish government’s habit of reacting to bad news by shooting the messenger, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears the authorities will now scapegoat independent journalists in a search for people to blame for the worst financial crisis in 17 years. RSF calls for a return to the rule of law.


As the Turkish lira continued to plummet yesterday, the interior ministry, the Istanbul prosecutor’s office and Turkey’s financial watchdog opened hundreds of investigations into “manipulative stories on media and social networks” that “threaten economic security” and “create a negative perception.” Those targeted could face up to five years in prison.


At the same time, the president’s office condemned a “disinformation campaign” that was “part of the economic war waged against our country” by the same forces that were already behind the “Occupy Gezi” protests in 2013 and the coup attempt in 2016.


“We are concerned that these announcements mean there could be a new witch hunt against the few critical voices still left in Turkey,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said.


“Turkey would not be where it is now if the rule of law had not been eliminated. Reestablishing it would help restore confidence more effectively than designating new scapegoats. More than ever, Turkey needs independent journalism in order to ensure transparency and reliable information.”


As tension mounts between Ankara and Washington, the financial crisis has fuelled the Turkish government’s patriotic rhetoric. After President Erdoğan last week said, “if they have their dollars, we have our people, our God,” the pro-government daily Sabah described the local Fox TV channel, a US-Turkish joint venture, as “the media arm of the US terrorist attack” on the Turkish economy.


Fox TV dismissed its Ankara bureau chief, Sedat Bozkurt, on administrative grounds on 10 August. But colleagues said they regarded the firing of Bozkurt, a respected journalist who had held the position since 2007, as a concession to the Turkish government.


The Turkish lira has lost more than 40% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year, a fall that accelerated when the United States imposed economic sanctions on 10 August after Turkey failed to release Andrew Brunson, a US evangelical missionary held since October 2016.


The already worrying state of Turkey’s media has become critical since the July 2016 abortive coup. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials have been held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained. Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.