Scripps’ Visiting Professional Journeys To Turkey To Protect Journalists

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The audio clip above is a shortened version of a Conversations From Studio B episode. If you want to listen to the full episode click here.

Veteran journalist and Ohio University alumnus Andy Alexander just returned from Turkey where he was part of a committee of journalists to meet with Turkish officials about freedom of press issues and how to improve conditions for journalists in that country.

He was part of a group of American journalists representing the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The group met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag and other top ranking Turkish governmental officials for spirited discussions.

The Turkish leaders argued that press coverage has been extremely biased and blamed news outlets for “polarizing and distorting coverage” of recent events in Turkey.  They targeted CNN International, the New York Times and other local newspapers.

The President told the delegation that “media should never have been given the liberty to insult.” Alexander says that the President’s definition of “insult” is often quite broad and even includes comments or facts in news reports that may be considered “un-Turkish” by the government.

As a result of the meeting, the government agreed to continue to reform  some anti-press laws and make the files of jailed journalists open for independent legal review. This was a major accomplishment for the CPJ delegation, according to Alexander.

The Turkish officials claim that three journalists recently have been released from custody.  The Committee delegates could confirm that two had been freed.  Seven journalists still remain in incarceration.  This is reduced from 61 journalists held in 2012.

Many of those previously released, however, are still facing charges and could again be imprisoned, according to a CPJ press release.

The Turkish government also has led a crack-down on freedom of expression on the Internet, according to CPJ.  It has been allegedly justified by officials because terrorist organizations and the Islamic State use of the Internet to recruit followers. 

However, the day after the CPJ committee met with the President of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the court overturned some of the restrictive amendments to Turkey’s Internet law. The Constitutional Court and the President are sometimes at odds with each other, according to Alexander.  This appears to be one of those issues where the two entities do not agree.

CPJ also has said that strong anti-media statements by governmental officials have prompted “vilification” of the reporters from pro-government media and threats against specific reporters.

“These reporters fear for their safety,” Alexander says.

 During the CPJ visit, the Turkish prime minister offered personal protection for the attacked journalists.

In addition to Alexander, the CPJ delegation included Anne Garrels, special correspondent for NPR; David Schlesinger, former editor-in-chief of Reuters; Jacob Weisberg, chairman of The Slate Group; Steven Isenberg, former publisher of New York Newsday; Mhamed Krichen, Qatar-based anchor and program host for Al-Jazeera. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon and Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nin Ognianova also were part of the delegation.

IPI was represented by Senior Press Freedom Adviser Steven Ellis and Secretary-General of South East Europe Media Organisation Oliver Vujovic.