Citing a “significant decline” in press freedom in Turkey, US-based watchdog Freedom House downgraded Turkey from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” in its “Freedom of the Press 2014” report.
Freedom House, which describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world,” stressed in its announcement of its annual press freedom report on May 1 that media freedom around the world has hit a decade low.
Freedom House said in a statement on Thursday that “global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013, as hopes raised by the Arab Spring were further dashed by major regression in Egypt, Libya, and Jordan, and marked setbacks also occurred in Turkey, Ukraine and a number of countries in East Africa.”
“In another key development,” Freedom House said, “media freedom in the United States deteriorated due primarily to attempts by the government to inhibit reporting on national security issues.”
The “Freedom of the Press 2014” report stressed that the biggest decline in Europe took place in Turkey, and that the country has been moved from the Partly Free to Not Free category.
“Constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and expression are only partially upheld in practice, undermined by restrictive provisions in the criminal code and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Turkey remained the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2013, with 40 behind bars as of December 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ],” said the report.
“The press freedom climate deteriorated sharply during the year as journalists were harassed and assaulted while attempting to cover the Gezi Park protests … in May, and dozens were fired or forced to resign in response to sympathetic coverage of the protesters’ demands,” it said.
“In Turkey, dozens of journalists were forced from their jobs in apparent connection with their coverage of politically sensitive issues like negotiations between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Gezi Park protests, or official corruption scandals,” the report said.
“The firings highlighted the close relationship between the government and many media owners, and the formal and informal pressure that this places on journalists,” it said.
Over 2013, press freedom was threatened by owners of key media outlets in a range of countries, including Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela, the report said.
The report emphasized “several high-profile dismissals” at the Milliyet daily, which was recently acquired by the Demirören Group — known to be close to the prime minister — and others at the Sabah daily, which was sold in 2011 to Turkuvaz Media. The media group is owned by businessman Ahmet Çalık, who is close to the government, and Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, was the CEO of Çalık Holding until November 2013 and effectively ran Turkuvaz Media as well.
One of the key reasons behind the decline in media freedom around the world, according to the report, is the practice of “attacking the messenger.”
“Journalists’ ability to cover breaking news came under particular threat in 2013, as those who attempted to report on protest movements in a number of key countries faced physical harassment and even targeted attacks designed to prevent them from documenting these important stories.
“In Ukraine, several dozen journalists covering the Euromaidan protests were attacked in early December. Numerous cases were reported in Turkey and Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Brazil, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Jordan, and Uganda. Special protection for members of the press can be difficult to uphold when demonstrations turn violent, and it has become more challenging as the boundaries between accredited journalists, citizen journalists, and civic activists become increasingly blurry. However, the direct targeting of those who were engaged in covering protests during the year was a key factor behind media freedom declines in many countries,” the report said.
Along with Turkey, a number of other countries were downgraded from Partially Free to Not Free, including Libya, South Sudan, Ukraine and Zambia.
According to the report, the year’s declines “were driven by the desire of governments — particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments — to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners — especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties — who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.”
Other countries the report said saw significant declines in media freedom in the past year were the Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.
“The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden were rated the world’s top-performing countries” in press freedom, the report said. Modest improvement was noted in Italy, which remained Partly Free.