Erdogan has all but destroyed Turkish journalism

Yavuz Baydar writes: Among journalists, the truth universally acknowledged is that bad news commands more column inches than good. In Turkey, the even more depressing truism is that much of the bad news has to do with the news industry itself.

Those of us trying to preserve our integrity as journalists fight a constant rearguard action – against proprietors who set little store by integrity, and against a government that tries to accrue power by restricting freedom of expression and ringfencing public debate.

Recent headlines have been devoted to the arrest of the journalist Mehmet Baransu. He was detained for a story he wrote in 2010, based on (literally) a suitcase of military documents, handed over to him by a whistleblowing officer, which implicated senior commanders in an attempted coup d’état, codenamed Sledgehammer.

The subsequent court proceedings – both in their scale and the liberal use of pre-trial detention – proved bitterly controversial. There is little doubt that the government interfered and was more interested in taming its own military than producing justice. The defence was able to cast doubt on the authenticity of some (but by no means all) of the evidence. So there is reason to believe that some of the convictions – suspended pending a retrial – were unsound.

Yet this is not why Baransu has been thrown in prison. He is accused not of misleading the courts but of handling state secrets, despite the fact that he had handed the leaked documents over to state prosecutors. Having got the military under its thumb, the government now requires its cooperation and has turned on the journalist who once made the government’s case.

Worse still, much of the government media is egging the prosecutors on. Imagine Glenn Greenwald being arrested and then the rest of the press urging the authorities to throw away the key. The current state of journalism is only a reflection of how polarised Turkish society has become under the divisive rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. [Continue reading…]

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