ISTANBUL – Turkish journalists are getting more frustrated about the increasing censorship in their country. Whenever there is big news concerning the fight against the Kurdish PKK, immediately the phone calls from the government in Ankara start coming in with instructions. And so it was this morning, after the news that dozens of civilians were killed in an air strike by the Turkish army in predominantly Kurdish southeast Turkey. A journalist who works for a big TV station says, on condition of anonymity: ‘We are not allowed to cover the news. Some journalists here are in tears, the masquerade is just unbearable.’
No big Turkish station broadcasts the news on Thursday morning. Finally at the end of the morning, they gave it some attention: the official statement of the army was released. After that, the news is shown as the government wants it. The silence has everything to do with an order from Prime Minister Erdogan, who recently met with all media bosses and instructed them not to oppose the government in the fight against the PKK.
Number of deaths
A journalist at a big Turkish TV station, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that when there is news somehow related to the fight against the PKK, they get a phone call from Ankara, either from the Prime Minister’s office or from another ministry. The government warns the editor in chief ‘not to show footage of the air strike and not to specify a number of deaths. We are also not allowed to use the red banner for ‘breaking news’, or put the news in the news line that is continuously running on the lower screen. We also can’t mention it on the website.’ Because in Turkey the big international stations like BBC World or Al Jazeera are not watched very much, a lot of Turks remain uninformed.
The International Federation of Journalists just released a statement yesterday about censorship in Turkey. Spokesperson Ernest Sagaga says he is ‘very concerned’ about the situation: ‘Anti-terror laws are being misused to silence journalists. Every journalist who doesn’t comply with the government’s version of the news can get into trouble.’
The federation calls on TV stations to protest together against censorship: ‘Journalists should fight for their independence’. At the same time, he realizes that the working journalists don’t have much influence: the bosses of TV stations are businessmen, not journalists, and they prefer good relations with the government.
Journalists are testing the limits of the censorship, for example by putting a small news article on the website, but that usually leads to an instant call from Ankara, the source at the news station says: ‘Then they say: “It looks like you are supporting the terrorist cause”. You can be fined for that, or sent to jail.’
Online papers do mention the events in the province of Sirnak. They are less important to the government in Ankara: the new editions of the papers will only be published on Friday, and by then there will be other news. And if not, then there is enough time to put the story in the ‘right’ perspective. ‘Then they will for example write that diesel was smuggled for the PKK.’