MESOP – ERDOGANS PERSONAL RECORD : RSF ranks Turkey 149th in latest press freedom index

February 12, 2015, Zaman / MAHIR ZEYNALOV / WASHINGTON- World’s largest press advocacy group has ranked Turkey on 149th place out of 180 countries surveyed in its latest press freedom index, commending the release of arrested journalists while highlighting the country’s rapid decline in freedom of information.Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its latest report on Wednesday, pointing to worldwide deterioration in freedom of information last year and a “drastic decline” compared to the previous year. Turkey climbed five places this year, largely because it released most of arrested journalists — one of the leading indicators that shapes a country’s overall score. The advocacy group, however, said dozens of journalists in Turkey continue to be the targets of arbitrary prosecutions under anti-terrorism law and that other “underlying situations” of press freedom actually worsened and on decline.

The 2015 World Press Freedom Index found out that media freedom is in retreat on all five continents due to the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis. “Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed less well than in the previous year,” the group said, adding that the annual global indicator, which measures the overall level of violations of freedom of information in 180 countries year by year, has risen to 3,719, an 8 percent increase over 2014 and almost 10 percent compared with 2013. The RSF weighs media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists as well as the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment to measure a country’s media freedom record.

In 2002, when the current Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power, Turkey ranked as 99th out of 134 countries surveyed. The next year it fell to 115, but also the number of surveyed countries rose to 158. As Ankara kicked off accession negotiations with the European Union, its press freedom score improved and it placed itself in 98th spot out of 161 countries two years in a row – 2005-06. The country’s ranking almost remained the same until 2009, when the country dropped to 122nd place out of 170 countries. The next year Turkey was ranked as 138th and fixed at 154th place for 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2015 index, three Scandinavian countries; Finland, Norway and Denmark occupied the top places while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were ranked as “the worst performers.” Turkey could only beat 31 countries in the world, including Russia (152nd), Iran (173rd) and China (176th). Countries such as Venezuela, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, UAE and Algeria performed better than Turkey, where arrest and intimidation of journalists are rampant. Turkey’s score in 2015 ranking worsened 1.71 points to 44.16, with 0 score being the best possible score and 100 the worst. The RSF described the state of press freedom in countries between the range of 35-55 points as “difficult situation.” Turkey falls into this set.

US Director of the RSF Delphine Halgand, who introduced the report in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, said there are many reasons for worrying decline, including blasphemy laws, the growing difficulty of covering demonstrations and regimes seeking ever more information control. The press freedom report said 2013 marked by increased violence against news providers covering protest gatherings. It said a number of journalists — professional and amateur, local and foreign — are insulted, threatened, attacked and even kill, while covering demonstrations. In Turkey, the report added, one year after “Occupy Gezi” demonstrations, impunity clearly has encouraged police to resort to violence: clubbing, and the use of tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.

In addition to direct attacks, the RSF said the government officials also try to hamper journalists’ work by imposing burdensome restrictions. It added that Turkish officials limited entry to a perimeter that police established around Taksim Square. Only journalists with press cards provided by the Prime Minister’s office were allowed in. In one of the dramatic cases, CNN’s Ivan Watson was taken away live on TV while covering the protests in the anniversary of Gezi upheaveal. He was subject to mounting threats and intimidation. He was eventually appointed to Hong Kong. The RSF also stressed that authorities increasingly continue providing “national security” as a reason to crack down on critical media. Security, it said, is the grounds most often given by governments — both those that are democratic and those that are not — for trampling on fundamentanl freedoms and gagging the media.

In Turkey, the report said, the anti-terrorism law is used to silence dissent. In one of the most visible cases, Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink was rounded up by anti-terrorism police on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda” and creating “negative opinion about the [Turkish] state” on Twitter. She is facing five years in prison. The RSF report said the surveillance and web-site blocking powers of the Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and Telecommunications Authority (TİB) were increased in 2014, against a backdrop of corruption allegations implicating four ex-ministers, dozens of pro-government businessmen and even son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bilal.

“And a recent amendment extended the list of grounds on which web-sites can be blocked without asking a judge’s permission first. They now include… national security,” the RSF said.

Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom has seen a new nadir last December when authorities detained a number of journalists, including Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and STV network executive Hidayet Karaca. The detentions attracted worldwide rebuke. While the EU condemned the “unacceptable” raids against the media, the US said it is “concerned” over the situation.

Only in the past week, prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu was detained for the fifth time, Dutch journalist Geerdink indicted, an academic was charged for insulting the president over a Facebook post and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu pressed charges against singer Atilla Taş over satirical anti-government tweets. Turkish TV personality Sedef Kabaş was detained twice last month. In addition, Twitter said this week that Turkey filed five times more content removal requests than any other country in second half of 2014. The RSF said Turkey’s rise in the press freedom index this year must be assessed in context. It stated that Turkey’s conditional release of around 40 imprisoned journalists — who nonetheless continue to face prosecution and could be detained again at any time — was helpful. “Turkey’s ‘underlying situation’ score – covering such areas as cyber-censorship, lawsuits, dismissals of critical journalists and gag orders – actually worsened, showing that freedom of information continues to decline,” the report said. It added that the Turkish government has done everything possible to rein in the influence of its “new Public Enemy No. 1,” the Gülen Movement, to the increasing detriment of the rule of law.