Several journalists fired, forced to resign in Turkey

New York, July 25, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that numerous Turkish journalists, including the leading columnist Yavuz Baydar, have been fired or forced to resign from news outlets in apparent retaliation for their independent coverage of anti-government demonstrations that swept the country.

“Media owners are dismissing their sharpest, most popular journalists to appease government leaders at the expense of their own readers,” Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “This toxic cycle of government pressure leading to media dismissals is depriving the Turkish public of the intellectual diversity and richness it deserves.”

The Turkish Union of Journalists said on Monday that it had documented at least 22 cases of journalists being fired and another 37 who had been forced to quit their jobs. The union said the dismissals were in connection with the journalists’ coverage of the June protests at Gezi Park. The demonstrations were violently quashed by police, who used tear gas and water cannons to quell protesters and journalists covering the events. The union did not say on whose order the journalists had been fired or forced to resign. It was also not clear what press coverage was deemed offensive enough to result in the dismissals.

But CPJ research shows that media owners or editors in Turkey fire critical journalists after being pressured by the government. Sometimes, the dismissals are pre-emptive, in which the editors or media owners dismiss journalists who could be seen as antagonizing the government. The dismissals usually follow a public statement by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or another government official, that calls out journalists for being irresponsible and damaging Turkey’s interests.

Baydar, who often contributes analysis and opinion on Turkish press freedom for international media, was fired this week from his long-time position as ombudsman at the daily newspaper Sabah, according to news reports. The dismissal came after Baydar had written an article reportedly saying that an ombudsman should be able to operate independent of the publication’s editor-in-chief.

Baydar was chastised in a public letter by Sabah editors in late June after writing a column that criticized the government’s reaction to the Gezi Park protests, according to news reports. The editors did not publish the column. Baydar took a temporary leave of absence from the paper.

He had also written a piece in The New York Times on July 19 that criticized Turkey’s media owners for, in his words, being cowed into “exercising editorial caution” and “subverting press freedom.”

  • For more on Turkey, visit CPJ’s Turkey page here.