August 17, 2022

Event Coverage Highlight

Panelists Paint Grim Picture of Press Freedom in Turkey

Kerim Balci


Agnès Callamard


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has waged an aggressive campaign to silence critics and clamp down on press freedom as he moves increasingly toward authoritarian rule.

On March 30, the OPC sponsored a program to analyze the recent seizure of two key Turkish news outlets and to discuss the fate of free expression in the country.

Kerim Balci, recently the editor-in-chief of Turkish Review, a bimonthly journal published by Zaman Media Group, left the country before police raided and took control of Zaman. He now lives in self-imposed exile. His family remains in Turkey, however, and his name remains on the top of a list of wanted journalists and many of his colleagues are in jail.

Balci’s three-and-a-half-year-old daughter is showing signs of trauma and wondering why her father has left, he said.

“We need to remember this side of the story. The suffering of the children will not end when we are back in our homes.”

He said many of his colleagues have been jailed or had their passports confiscated.

“They don’t have the hope or courage to start again.”

Repercussions of the government seizure are far-reaching. Zaman Media Group had conducted news trainings around the country, had correspondents in 120 countries around the world and shared content with 87 local stations in Turkey for free. The only other source of such free content is the government, Balci said.

Agnès Callamard, the director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression initiative, spoke about the global trend of defamation and terrorism charges being used to silence journalists and opposition groups.

She said the crackdown in Turkey includes the academic sector, political parties, cultural and artistic centers, non-governmental organizations and the judiciary.

“It’s not just about the press,” she said. “what’s happening in Turkey is about dissent and political opposition.”

She said between 30 and 33 journalists are currently in jail in Turkey, many of them on national security charges.

Turkey has also stepped up attacks on social media as people increasingly seek online sources of information amid the crackdown on traditional media.

Turkey has the “most egregious” record in the world when it comes to pulling content from Twitter, Callamard said. Between January and June 2015, there were 408 Turkish court orders to Twitter for removal of content – which constituted 90 percent of the number of requests worldwide for the same period.

The number of requests to Twitter increased sixfold from the first half of 2015 to the second half, with more than 1,800 requests.

Those requests were made by a small circle of people close to Erdoğan, Callamard added.

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