Turkey has been under PEN focus for a long time, and recently PEN Norway has published a report on freedom of speech in Turkey, with the title of “Free Expression Under a Shadow”. Basically, PEN has employed a team of experts in the last two years to interview renowned writers, authors, academics, journalists, bloggers and many others in Turkey, to write a report on the developments in the country regarding free expression.
The title of the report comes from a 2012 meeting with -by then- President Abdullah Gul, during which the president had said “There are many developments in Turkey with regards to democratization but the concerns over freedom of speech cast a shadow on all improvements.” Since 2012, the reporting has been focusing on the developments and cites the improvements as release of the writers from prison and the judicial reform package that seemed to tilt the trend towards more positive future. However, the harsh repression of peaceful protests, ongoing trials of all the writers that have been released from prison, arbitrariness of persecution, media bans, backlash on the judicial reform through parliamentary bills continue casting shadows on the few developments.
An interesting aspect of the report states the financial authorities being perceived as the “new guns of an authoritarian government”. While corporations and businessmen that do not necessarily have a favorable view of the government receive tax auditors as visitors quite often, there are also reports that individual citizen journalists and bloggers also get caught up in the radars of the tax authorities, through casual visits by auditors to their or their parents’ small businesses.
During the presentation of the report to Turkish press, the bans in Turkey have been referred to as absurd and definition of such attempts have been declared as censorship. The report however focuses mainly on the physical publishing in terms of media, and another report is being drafted at the moment, regarding the digital freedoms and digital censorship attempts in Turkey.
While the report was being discussed in Istanbul, in Ankara the new EU minister Bozkır was holding a meeting with representatives of hundreds of NGOs, promising a new reform package on freedom of speech to resolve all democratic problems of Turkey. After hundreds of “harmonization” and “reform” packages to bring Turkey in line with more democratic states as well as the EU Acquis, it no longer seems sincere when a government official claims or promises improvements with this corrupt system.
Simultaneously, when the PEN report was being discussed and EU Ministry was holding a meeting to advance the “improvements” in free speech in Turkey, a court was about to give decision of a “media ban” to stop journalists from questioning, publishing and broadcasting anything related to the biggest corruption case in the history of mankind. While even the tip of the iceberg is supposed to be a non-stop reported issue, declaration of a media ban gives a clear image of the approach to freedoms and liberties by this government unfortunately.
Just like any other topic that the pro-government media outlets fail to convince masses in, this issue also got added to the “banned pieces from media” list. Yet again, the most recent developments with regards to free speech and free press in Turkey, in the light of the PEN report, bring it to daylight once more that there is an urgent need for new initiatives to take journalism -if there ever was such an era- back to its ethically aware days, in atmosphere of freedom and courage.