Press Freedom: The Politicization of Turkish Media

Press Freedom: The Politicization of Turkish Media

The European Union's 2007 Ascension Partnership with Turkey (.pdf) calls for Turkey to reform its laws to adapt them to the Law of the European Union. Among the required reforms is legislation to protect and expand the media's freedom of expression, which has been stifled in Turkey by broad interpretations of the Penal Code -- specifically a clause known as Article 301 -- as well as simmering domestic tensions between secular Kemalist and Islamist groups.

Freedom of the press in Turkey is protected under Article 26 of the Turkish constitution. In fact, censorship of the press was abandoned on July 24, 1908 -- well before World War I and the foundation of the secular Turkish Republic. However, certain articles in the Turkish Penal Code have been used to erode journalists' freedom to report objectively on controversial issues.

One such clause is Article 301, which threatens anyone who denigrates the Turkish nation with imprisonment. As a result, journalists face a heavy penalty for expressing opinions that criticize "Turkishness" as well as the Turkish government. Since taking office in 2003, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used provisions in Turkish law, including Article 301, to file court cases against over 60 media companies and journalists for nearly $1 trillion in fines and penalties. Some of these cases were filed over minor offenses such as satirizing Erdogan in political cartoons.

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