Last week’s release of CPJ’s report on Turkey’s press freedom crisis generated widespread domestic media coverage and sparked a robust public debate. The response from Turkish journalists and commentators was largely positive, but there were some negative reactions as well. Turkey’s Justice Ministry has promised a detailed response this week. Here is a summary of the criticism we received during several days of intensive media interviews, along with our responses.
CPJ has a political agenda in Turkey. Not true. CPJ has worked for 31 years to defend the rights of journalists around the world. We are non-partisan, non-ideological, and independent. We do not accept any government funding. As journalists ourselves, our sole interest is ensuring that our media colleagues in Turkey are able to work freely, without intimidation or the threat of jail. As background, the last time our organization was this active in Turkey was in the 1990s when authorities jailed as many as 78 journalists as part of a widespread crackdown. Many of those jailed at the time were journalists who wrote from a religious perspective and were persecuted for their views. When we included them on our list of imprisoned journalists, we were harshly criticized by the Turkish government–under different leadership at the time–and by much of the media establishment. We stood our ground and fought for the release of every single imprisoned journalist. Today we are guided by the same principles. No journalist should be imprisoned for his or her work.
You were duped by your Turkish researchers. False. The report was an organization-wide project and was written by experienced senior staff, under the coordination of our editorial director, Billie Sweeney, and our Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova. Our team of highly capable Turkish researchers, led by Özgür Öğret, was responsible for researching the cases of jailed journalists, which is an appendix to the main report. The case research was rigorous. Over a four-month period, our researchers reviewed lists of detainees compiled by the Justice Ministry and local and international groups, examined indictments, consulted underlying legal documents, interviewed defense lawyers, spoke with journalists covering the cases, and evaluated the published, firsthand accounts of the defendants themselves. Öğret traveled to New York to work alongside our editorial director throughout the editing process. Our research team provided the data, but CPJ staff made the determination on how to classify each imprisoned case. In compiling the main report, CPJ staff traveled to Turkey on three fact-finding missions in 2011 and 2012, meeting with dozens of journalists, analysts, and lawyers. The report was an institutional effort and as executive director I take full responsibility for its contents.
No one can trust your data because your last report cited just eight Turkish journalists in jail. In December 2011, CPJ published its prison census, which we have been compiling and publishing annually since 1985. This was not a special report on Turkey, but rather a global survey of every country in the world. In an open letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan on December 22, 2011, CPJ wrote that we believed there were many other journalists in prison in Turkey, in addition to the cases confirmed in the census. We committed to carrying out a systematic review of those cases to determine whether they were in fact jailed for their professional work as journalists. We have now completed that review and have confirmed that a total of 61 journalists are in jail in Turkey for their work. We also researched an additional 15 cases but did not classify them as confirmed either because there was insufficient information to determine whether they were jailed for their journalism, or because they may have been jailed in retaliation for their political activism. CPJ’s next global prison census will be published in December.
It’s absurd for CPJ to suggest that Turkey is more repressive than Iran or Eritrea. It is absurd, and we would never suggest it. What we reported, based on diligent research, is the objective fact that Turkey has more journalists in jail than either country. We recognize that Turkey is an emerging democracy, economic success story, and regional leader. The public debate about our report indicates just how lively and vibrant the media in Turkey can be. However, the nation’s inarguable position as the world’s leading jailer of journalists invites inevitable comparisons to other countries that jail journalists.
Turkey’s press freedom problems involve more than imprisonments. We agree. Although the imprisonment of journalists is a focal point, our report explores a broad range of threats to freedom of the press. We examine the routine prosecution of journalists on criminal charges related to newsgathering; the use of government pressure to instill self-censorship in the media; and the failure to reform vaguely worded penal and anti-terror statutes that are applied regularly against the press.
The language you used in your report was unduly harsh and insulting. We respectfully disagree. The report was critical but fair. It was meticulously researched and fact-checked and our conclusions and analyses were supported by detailed evidence. We used direct but measured language to communicate the reality that the Turkish media is currently under extreme pressure and that dozens of journalists are now in jail for their work.
CPJ is not the judge and jury. It’s up to the Turkish courts to determine guilt and innocence. We agree. Our role is to review the available evidence and to make informed public judgments about whether the facts support the very serious charges leveled against the journalists cited in our report. We hope that Turkish authorities will carry out a similar exercise and decline to pursue cases in which there is insufficient evidence to win convictions. While we believe that none of the 61 cases have merit, we also are ready to examine any new evidence that arises. If warranted, we are prepared to adjust our conclusions. We are asking to meet with Turkish officials in Ankara next month and we are hopeful that a productive exchange will take place.