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Turkey: a “laboratory” of democracy

by Gregory Todaro November 17, 2015
Turkey: a “laboratory” of democracy

Thinking Out Loud series looks at journalism and human rights

“Turkey is a graveyard for journalists,” said veteran Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman, speaking to the crowd at a lecture in Concordia’s D.B. Clarke Theatre Monday night.

Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

Photo by Andrej Ivanov.

She described the influence the government of Turkey has over the firing of journalists, where hundreds of journalists across the country have lost their jobs because they’re either seen as critical of the government or aligned with a group the government finds threatening.

This is what Turkish media is coping with said Zaman during the Thinking Out Loud lecture.

Zaman, along with Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia were guest speakers at the A Conversation About Journalism and Human Rights talk. The lecture was moderated by foreign editor for The Globe and Mail Susan Sachs. The talk, which was also co-presented by the Austrian-based International Press Institute, focused on what Zaman calls “unremitting and sustained” suppression by the government on Turkish media.

Zaman herself was fired from the Turkish newspaper HaberTurk after publishing articles against the government.

“[The Turkish public] are no longer privy to critical views of the government, so all you have is propaganda,” she said. “What’s also troubling is that now the government is also targeting the Western press … now foreign journalists who write stories that make the government uncomfortable can face expulsion—as did Fréderike Geerdink, a Dutch journalist recently who was prosecuted in fact prior to her expulsion on terror charges.”

“Every single year while my colleagues in the Western press are getting ready to renew their press accreditation [in Turkey], they really worry, ‘will I be accredited again this year?’” Zaman added. “They feel that pressure very intensely. To what degree will that influence their reporting, I wonder?”

When Sachs asked Zaman if she felt her own reporting was influenced by this, Zaman replied, “I’d like to think no.”

Zaman was personally targeted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last year: he called her “A militant in the guise of a journalist,” and told her she needed to “know your place.”

“I think it’s very frightening when you see a state that … has full political power and still feels obliged to actually pressure businesses and private media to toe the line,” said Matthews. “It’s a spiral. How do you get out of that?”

One possible outlet is Twitter; Zaman said that the social media platform is especially popular with younger Turks. In 2013 during massive protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, the hashtag #direngezi was trending.

While social media has allowed people to get and share information Matthews said the Turkish government is trying to exert it’s influence online as well.

“In Turkey, we have seen that social media platforms have been shut down numerous times,” he said. “It turns out that 60 per cent of requests to Twitter to shut down accounts or posts … came from the Turkish government.”

However, Matthews also said that social media can greatly empower individuals.
“I think for authoritarian governments [social media is] the one thing that drives them nuts,” he said. “They try to shut down Twitter, they try and shut down Facebook but they can’t control it … I don’t think the 21st Century is going to be very kind to control freaks because you can’t control the flow of information. They can shut down cell phone access, they can shut down the internet, but there are so many new technologies being introduced to allow individuals to bypass that.”

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