The government is doing nice things for journalists: the discounts for press card holders have been extended. Most of the public transport is already free all over the country, but now my colleagues and I can also get discounts (up to 50%!) with some privately owned long-distance bus companies, and for flights with national carrier Turkish Airlines. And, this is a funny one, when my kids get married, I get a discount for household equipment from Arcelik, a big Turkish brand-name – well, as a plan coming from conservative AKP, I could also find this one stupidly conservative.
Anyway, my joy quickly faded when I heard the latest figures on Turkish journalists in jail: 33 at the moment. Convicted for all sorts of writings and broadcastings, often, for example, for ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’. That’s what you can be accused of if you interview a pro-Kurdish politician, for example, and quote his or her opinions on, for example, the PKK or Öcalan. Last year too seven papers and magazines were temporarily banned, sometimes once, sometimes several times. Kurdish newspapers are most often victims of that, but in December the leftist-nationalist weekly magazine Aydınlık (Luminous) was banned for one month. Also accused of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation, but in their case not the PKK but Ergenekon – the editors of Aydınlık initially had no idea for precisely which articles they were being convicted.
The Turkish journalists’ union especially wanted to draw attention to the suspended sentences many journalists get. Usually there is a probation period of five years, which inevitably leads to self-censorship. And that is one of the most effective ways to shut a journalist up and to weaken press freedom. If the government really wants to do something to make journalists happy, I propose they change some laws. Right away please!