Freedom of the Press 2005

Constitutional provisions for freedom of the press and of expression are only partially upheld. As part of its ongoing reforms to prepare for membership in the European Union, Turkey passed another series of reforms in 2004 that affected press freedom. A new press code was adopted in June that includes heavy fines instead of prison sentences for some press crimes, permits noncitizens to own periodicals and serve as editors, protects against disclosure of sources, and prevents authorities from closing publications or hindering distribution. The government overhauled the penal code in September 2004. The new code, which was due to take effect in April 2005, reduced the minimum sentence for defamation. However, prison sentences remain in place for crimes such as stating that genocide was committed against the Armenians in 1915, instigating hatred in one part of the population against another (used against journalists who write about the Kurdish population), or calling for the removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. Criminal defamation laws for insult against institutions such as the president, the military, and Turkish national identity stand as well, and sentences are in fact longer for members of the media than for others. As part of a package of reforms passed in June, the government removed the military member of the Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTUK), the broadcast regulatory authority. Also in June, after considerable delay (the initial law was passed in August 2002), state television and radio began limited broadcasting in minority languages, including Kurdish. Critics protested that the broadcasts were too restricted and quality was poor, but the move was a major step forward for Kurdish rights and freedom of expression.

Censorship is not explicit, but content censorship and self-censorship occur among editors and journalists, who are concerned about violating the many legal restrictions. Often, the courts side against journalists, who continue to be jailed and face huge fines for various press offenses. In May, Hakan Albayrak, former editor of Mili Gazete, was sentenced to 15 months in prison without bail for insulting Kemal Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkey). Sabri Ejder Ozic, the former head of the Radyo Dunya station in the city of Adana, was sentenced to one year in jail in December 2003 after he criticized the government's decision to allow foreign troops on Turkish territory and to send Turkish troops to Iraq. Ozic appealed the sentence and has not yet been imprisoned. In May, an Ankara court ordered three journalists of the Islamist-oriented newspaper Vakit to pay 551 billion lira (US$408,000) to 312 generals for allegedly insulting them in a 2003 article. Some media outlets were temporarily closed during the year. RTUK has the authority to sanction broadcasters if they are not in compliance with the law or its expansive 23 broadcasting principles. Although independent, RTUK, whose members are elected by the parliament, is frequently subject to political pressure. Thus, a local television station was shut down for a month in April 2004 after broadcasting songs in Kurdish, a language that has traditionally been banned in public. The pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeniden Ozgur Gundem was forced to close in February because of fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In March, police officers attacked nine journalists in Diyarbakir who were covering a protest by a pro-Kurdish party over alleged rigged elections. Pro-Kurdish journalists continue to be victims of many kinds of pressure. In June, police detained 25 journalists from pro-Kurdish media outlets. Antiterrorist police searched the offices of pro-Kurdish news agency Dicle and arrested 16 journalists and staff. Antiterrorist police also searched the offices of the pro-Kurdish monthlies Ozgur Halk and Genc Bakis and arrested six staff members.

Despite overt government restrictions, independent domestic and foreign print media provide diverse views, including criticism of the government and its policies. Turkey's broadcast media are well developed, with hundreds of private television channels, including cable and satellite, as well as commercial radio stations. Media are highly concentrated in a few private conglomerates, which subtly pressure their editors and journalists to refrain from reporting that will harm their business interests. This could include avoiding criticism of the government, which often has contracts with other arms of the companies and advertisers. As the strength of these media groups continues to grow unchecked, they could become a bigger obstacle to press freedom than the state. The quality of the Turkish media is low. About a quarter of the population accessed the Internet in major cities, with a growing percentage in rural areas.

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score

(0 = best, 100 = worst)
(0 = best, 40 = worst)
(0 = best, 30 = worst)