The International Press Institute (IPI) is marking December 10, Human Rights Day, with a nationwide advertising campaign in Turkey to highlight the immense challenges and threats the country’s independent media face.
In recent years, the Turkish government has systematically increased pressure on media via a number of methods including judicial harassment, disproportionate laws, online attacks and smear campaigns, regulatory fines, and advertising and broadcast bans. Through friendly ownership networks, the government has also captured the majority of the mainstream press.
Amid the growing number of methods of information control, IPI is focusing its nationwide ad campaign on the theme of censorship. Despite the challenges, the campaign slogan stresses that “censorship does not bend the truth”.
“This campaign highlights the grave level of government efforts to censor independent media on all possible fronts. But it also draws attention to the fact that no matter how great such censorship is, and no matter how strong the pressure, the truth will always find its way out thanks to the dedication of Turkey’s journalists to critical, factual, and independent reporting”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavaş said.
Throughout 2021, Turkish authorities have systematically imposed censorship and bans on media in response to coverage of topics that were sensitive or disliked by the government. One example is the targeting and censorship of news media that reported on the wildfires in Turkey’s southwest this summer. Broadcasters faced bans, and journalists were attacked for their critical reporting on the fires. Similar censorship was seen in response to other topics ranging from the currency crisis to public tenders to corruption allegations implicating government officials.
In October 2021, an IPI-led international delegation organized a press freedom mission to Turkey to investigate these issues, including a rise in digital censorship. During the mission, the government announced plans to draft a “fake news and disinformation” law to criminalize dissemination of “disinformation” via all offline and online platforms – a move seen as a clear attempt to further silence free expression and independent journalism online. Meetings with MPs and independent journalists confirmed concerns about even greater state control over critical media and dissident voices.
According to the Engelli Web Turkey 2020 report by the Freedom of Expression Association (IFÖD), local authorities blocked at least 58,809 URLs and domain names in 2020. A total of 89 percent of blocking orders were issued by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) as an “administrative measure” mostly without waiting for a local court ruling. IFÖD reported that 5,645 URLs related to news content were blocked by court rulings in 2020.
The Turkish broadcast regulator, the Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), issued a total of 1,503 administrative fines to TV broadcasters in 2020 – a 21 percent increase compared to 2019. Similarly, the Press Advertising Agency (BİK), which is responsible for the fair distribution of public ads to newspapers, issued a total of 572 days’ worth of ad bans on newspapers due to alleged “ethics violations”, removing an important source of revenue for these media and thereby damaging their financial position.
In March 2021, the Turkish Justice Ministry published a Human Rights Action Plan to outline its goals under so-called Judicial Reform Packages, laying out provisions in a number of areas related to human and fundamental rights to be implemented within two years. Yet the goals outlined under the section “Protection and Promotion of the Freedom of Expression” (P.57) remain highly vague. Moreover, the report states that the implementation of the action plan will be monitored and assessed by a “Monitoring and Evaluation Board comprised of responsible ministries and committees under the coordination of Presidency of the Republic” (P.126), raising serious questions about impartiality.
IPI carried out a global ad campaign last year on December 10 with the slogan “Press Freely” in Turkish to highlight the importance and resilience of independent journalism in Turkey despite the threats it faces. The campaign was published in European newspapers Politico and EU Observer as well as in the Turkish news outlets BirGün, Diken, Duvar, Evrensel, Karar, and Medyascope. IPI’s campaign was listed as a finalist at Turkey’s prestigious “Crystal Apple” Advertising Awards in the category “Social Responsibility” pending results to be announced.