Turkish Journalist Association (TGC) President Turgay Olcayto has called on the ruling party and opposition parties “to remove the barriers to freedom of press and expression, free imprisoned journalists and stop treating journalism as a crime,” in his Jan. 10 “Working Journalists’ Day” message.
Olcayto also called on other media workers, saying: “We need more solidarity [among each other]. Journalists should also stop targeting their colleagues.”
The association’s president also said almost one out of every three journalists had been left unemployed in the last 10 years, 145 of which were currently imprisoned, highlighting the dire situation of journalists in the country. Working Journalists’ Day, celebrated in Turkey since 1961, is supposed to honor the rights of reporters and other media workers in the country.
“As journalists frequently face legal challenges, their second address has become the courthouse. Journalists cannot practice their profession. And among our journalist colleagues, the membership rate in unions is very low. In Europe, this rate is at least 25 percent, whereas in Turkey, it is only 5.9 percent. The loss of blood in the sector continues as critical journalism is not allowed to happen,” Olcayto said.
“Publication bans, fines, lawsuits, detentions, arrests, censorship, and self-censorship have become daily occurrences. In addition, politicians label journalism a terrorist activity and journalists terrorists, which puts our colleagues into the crosshairs. Verbal and physical attacks on journalists continue. Despite complaints, these attacks, unfortunately, go unpunished,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan released a message on Jan. 9 to mark the occasion. His message underlined the importance of ensuring media corporations do not face any limitations as they aspire to report on events in every corner of the country as well as the world, saying this sort of work was a democratic necessity.
“Although I have been harmed by the media from time to time throughout my political life, I have always struggled, and still do struggle, to make sure that different voices and cultures are able to freely express themselves and voice their opinions,” Erdoğan said in his message.
“Only a free, transcendent and fair media can help create a society that is open to the world, able to follow every issue of concern in its country and humanity; a society that can voice its opinions, that is participatory and faces up to the realities of the day as they are,” he said.
Erdoğan said journalism meant not merely reporting news but also making comments.
“However, some people who rely on our sensitivity to freedom of expression engage in generating disinformation in an attempt to undermine the brotherhood of our nation and the integrity of our state through manipulative news stories,” the president said.
The Turkish president concluded his statement by saying his biggest wish was for working journalists to have the optimum environment where they could enjoy comfortable working conditions, improve themselves and receive the proper compensation for their labor.
On Jan. 10, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also celebrated Working Journalists’ Day in a Twitter post.
“It is indispensable for a democracy to ensure that journalists can work freely. Once again I’m shouting out to the world that journalism is not a crime,” Kılıçdaroğlu posted.