At least 50 editors from the world’s leading media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais, La Repubblica and Agence France-Presse, signaled alarm this week over the fate of Turkey‘s press freedom, urging the Turkish president to tolerate his country’s independent and critical media.
The signatories of an open letter addressed to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raise profound concerns about what they said were “deteriorating conditions” for press freedom in Turkey, just days before elections slated for Nov. 1.
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), in partnership with English PEN, organized the open letter and encouraged editors around the world to republish it to help maintain pressure on the Turkish authorities to respect press freedom.
“Our colleagues and friends in Turkey need our support, now more than ever,” WAN-IFRA said in a press release early on Friday.
In a statement sent to the world’s media editors, WAN-IFRA said the independent and critical opposition press in Turkey has been the focus of a “sustained and vicious assault” by the government. It noted that Turkish journalists have been imprisoned, media companies attacked, and incendiary comments against the role of a free media regularly heard.
“Just this week,” the statement said, “an opposition media group was raided and seized and journalists covering the story assaulted.”
Signatories include Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, Michèle Léridon, global news director of the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Shane Smith, founder of VICE Media, Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief of La Stampa, Wolfgang Krach, joint editor-in-chief of Süddeutsche Zeitung, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, Zaffar Abbas, editor of The Dawn and Martin Baron, executive editor of the the Washington Post.
The editors mentioned troubling incidents over the past two months that also included physical attacks against newspapers and outspoken journalists. The letter said the seizure of the Koza İpek Media Group, the detention of three journalists working for VICE News and other legal harassment are causes for concern.
“We urge you to use your influence to ensure that journalists, whether Turkish citizens or members of the international press, are protected and allowed to do their work without hindrance,” the editors asked Erdoğan, who is known to be one of the worst of the world’s leaders when it comes to respecting critical media. The editors characterized the media situation as a “climate of intimidation” and said there is the worrying rise of a “culture of impunity” that serves to deprive journalists of the necessary safeguards to do their essential work and leaves them vulnerable to bullying and even physical harm.
The government’s reluctance, and in some instances failure, to condemn attacks on journalists independent or critical of it is, the editors highlighted, an especially “alarming development.”
The people of Turkey will go to the polls on Sunday, and commentators already claim that the elections will not be fair, considering the uneven distribution of campaign broadcasts as well as unprecedented pressure on the critical media.
On Tuesday Turkish riot police stormed the headquarters of the İpek Media Group, seizing two newspapers, two TV stations and a radio station. On Friday the media outlets resumed their broadcast and publication, albeit with a strictly pro-government line. The front pages of both newspapers displayed Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
The media takeover attracted widespread criticism around the world. The European Union and the US denounced the seizure, while Freedom House said the “act of censorship” undermines the fairness of the upcoming polls.
The editors who signed the letter said the Turkish government’s failure to support and protect journalists where necessary is undermining the country’s international reputation and damaging its standing as a democracy.
“We share widespread concerns that recent events are part of a concerted campaign to silence any opposition or criticism of the government in the run up to the election,” the editors stated.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th in its latest press freedom index, while Freedom House put Turkey among the list of countries ranked “Not Free.”
“We recognize that Turkey is facing a period of considerable tension,” the letter said, adding that it is at such times that the role of a free press becomes “ever more critical.”
The international media editors said all Turkish state institutions have an obligation to respect and to take steps to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
“As editors, we are dismayed to see individual journalists, along with publications and media groups, targeted in this way. We are increasingly concerned at the impact on reporting events in Turkey fully and accurately, both at home and abroad,” the letter concluded.