Turkey: Follow-up on Zaman, Cumhuriyet and media blackout

by Michelle Trimborn

Press freedom violations in Turkey continue. During the last weeks we reported on the state influence executed over the Zaman newspaper group and the pending trial of Erdem Gül and Can Dündar from Cumhuriyet newspaper. Read about the latest developments.

Censorship_Turkey_900 The ECPMF has been following persecution against journalists all over the EU and ascension countries. Photo: Pixabay

Cumhuriyet-trial: ECPMF supports Gül and Dündar in Istanbul

After having been first taken into custody because of allegations of espionage, Erdem Gül and Can Dündar are still free pending trial. Their first hearing will take place on 25 March 2016. ECPMF, together with other international colleagues like the European Federation of Journalists and PEN international will be in Turkey to support them and other imprisoned journalists in Turkey.

On Thursday, 24 March 2016, a press conference will take place to publicly demonstrate the solidarity and togetherness of the international press freedom community and speak out against the detention of journalists. Organised by Turkish journalists’ associations and the national press institute, the conference will be held in the building of TGS (Journalists’ Union of Turkey) in Cağaloğu, Istanbul. It will take place in the Burhan Felek conference room at 17.00 local time. An ECPMF representative will speak at the conference and follow the hearing to support the journalists.

Zaman: Newspapers seized, editors and journalists leaving

Under strong public protest, several newspapers of the government-critical Zaman group were put under the control of a court-nominated trustee. Two days later, the news agency Cihan received the same decision. Since then, both media outlets continue working, but under complicated conditions. Many editors and journalists left out of necessity or voluntarily as they feared that the court-appointed trustees would not allow any free reporting.

Some journalists left the country, among them Sevgi Akarcesme, the former editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman (the English-language edition of Zaman). Akarcesme is now working from exile in Brussels, stating, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, that she had been living “in an open air prison in Turkey”.

The foreign editions of the Zaman newspaper try to continue working as they are officially not affected by the court decision. However, their survival and continuation is difficult. Many articles were delivered by the Turkish Zaman's main outlet, which has stopped sending news to foreign offices, according to journalists at the German outlet.

Media blackout after terrorist attacks

Repeatedly the Turkish government imposed a ban on reporting about terrorist attacks. Also after the latest incident in Istanbul on 19 March 2016, media were told by government authorities to pause reporting on attacks and not to publish any pictures. While Turkish authorities justify this practice with security reasons, others perceive it as another violation of press freedom and attempt of the government to influence news reporting. During other bans, social media channels were affected, too, and not accessible from Turkey. The blackouts were never complete, as journalists often refused to stick to the governmental orders, but especially broadcasters were unable to report on the incidents.