When it comes to the fundamentals of press freedom, such as freedom of expression, independence and pluralism, Turkey has been a conspicuously bad example in recent years.
Turkey, the world’s top jailer of journalists, inevitably features in almost all reports and events related to the global media landscape.
But the sad truth is that journalism is under fire, to varying degrees, in almost every country of the world.
This week in Paris, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO presented its global report on “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development” and its key findings were bleaker than ever before.
Despite having much greater access to information in the digital age, citizens and journalists continue to face persistent threats to their ability to report and receive news and information.
The UNESCO report highlights emerging global trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence and the safety of journalists.
On media freedom, it talks of new strains rising from rapid political, technological and economic transformations as well as new forms of political populism.
Trends on media pluralism underline the increased availability of media content, but warns against this multitude of information contributing to the creation of virtual ‘echo chambers’ and deepening polarization.
There is also declining public trust in news media across most regions. Fabricated news and insemination of lies are damaging media credibility and independence.
With traditional business models being disrupted, circulations and ratings falling, the traditional media is increasingly relying on government and corporate subsidies. The Internet-based new media is even more open to pressure as governments can shut down sites or even the whole internet.
More worryingly, there has been a substantial rise in violence against journalists. According to the UNESCO report, between 2012 and 2016, 530 journalists were killed, an average of two deaths per week. Cases of kidnapping, torture and arbitrary detention in some parts of the world remain high. In most countries where journalists are killed, impunity reigns.
Unlike Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, where attacks on journalists are rife and increasing, Europe used to be a safe environment.
Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination outside her home in October brought the violent threat to journalists closer to home.
Thankfully, killing of journalists in Europe is still very rare. Nevertheless, in Europe, too, journalists are not fully immune as media freedom is under attack from multiple sources.
In Britain, amendments to the Data Protection Bill is a highly controversial attempt threatening press freedom.
During Trump’s election campaign and Britain’s Brexit referendum, Reporters Without Borders in its annual World Press Freedom Index described the atmosphere as “highly toxic”. Both countries slipped two places in the RSF index this year.
In Europe, the picture is not as bleak as elsewhere.
France, often criticised for deterioration in its media freedoms during emergency rule, on 7 November, received praise for its court in rejecting the Azerbaijani government’s defamation suit against French investigative journalists Elise Lucet and Laurent Richard.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has recently announced a £1 million fund to boost press freedom around the world. It was seen as a step in the right direction, “albeit belated and somewhat hesitant”.
There is also a new initiative by Reporters Without Borders and Freedom Voices Network called Forbidden Stories. It aims to publicize and help complete the work of journalists that are murdered or arrested.
The Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists has been working together with 12 trusted media freedom organisations to raise alerts when journalists or media organisations are in danger.
Journalists are under pressure everywhere; yet each day they are getting better organized to protect themselves and to find ways of working together to get around censorship.
To see the power of investigative journalism in solidarity, you only need to look at the project called “The Paradise Papers” by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. This global network of journalists has reignited the debate on international finance system, tax havens and transparency in several countries simultaneously, but more importantly, it has shown once again that journalism is still alive and well.
This post is also available in: Turkish