This is the end of journalism in Turkey

This is the end of journalism in Turkey
Editor of Zaman’s German edition, Suleyman Bag, poses with the last edition following the paper’s seizure by the Turkish government.

As Zaman is closed, it’s clear dissenting voices are being silenced one by one as more media outlets are seized. The EU must stop turning a blind eye

The article is taken over from The Guardian, with the permission of the author, Yavuz Baydar

The time has come, so it seems, for the world to brace itself for the funeral of journalism in Turkey. Receiving blow after blow and left severely bruised by authoritarianism under the ruling AKP and its undisputed leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a key profession is now on its deathbed.

After the seizure under dramatic and brutal circumstances of Turkey’s biggest daily newspaper Zaman – and Today’s Zaman (its sister in English) – at the weekend, on Monday the Cihan news agency was the latest media organisation to be taken over by the government. Both operations make up a massive segment of the Turkish media: this leaves only a tiny – and fragile – number of independent outlets in operation.

Concerns are profound: many fear that the remaining journalists now face the same fate as other colleagues. According to unions, scores of journalists were fired over the Gezi Park protests, simply because they defended the central values of their profession: freedom and independence.

The exponential crumbling of the Turkish media, which accelerated paradoxically as the AKP government was given a red carpet treatment in Brussels, follows the unplugging of two critical television channels from both ends of an already narrow spectrum – the pro-Kurdish IMC TV and rightwing Bengü TV – from the Türksat satellite company. The AKP’s media strategy is a cunning but efficient approach devised by Erdoğan. Realising that most of the Turkish public get their news from the TV, his decisive move was to exercise control over that domain. Now with only two of the last oppositional outlets left open, the subordination of TV approaches completion.

This controlling of the media is also very visible in print. Zaman is – or was – the most widely distributed of all newspapers, reaching a large segment of mainly conservative readers. With it taken over by the government, the ground is left open to newspapers, severely self-censored under the stiff control of proprietors, who are either voluntarily subservient or operate under constant threats of losing lucrative contracts and public tenders. It is up to a small, but courageous, group of newspapers, and a handful of online news sites, to challenge the iron fist of the AKP by physically, financially and legally struggling to report stories that are critical and dissenting commentary.

The case of daily Cumhuriyet (with about 60,000 in circulation) has helped to illustrate the tensions under which journalism fights for survival. When it reported a story of Turkish lorries allegedly carrying weaponry and ammunition to jihadists in Syria, two of the paper’s most senior editors, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, ended up in jail for three months’ pre-trial detention. They face lifetime sentences if they are indicted as “spies”.

Turkey’s top judiciary body helped them out by a pro-freedom ruling, but found itself subjected to the rage of Erdoğan and his ministers, who declared the constitutional court “unconstitutional”. As rumours insist that these editors face detention again, the government now sends signals of changes that will strip the top court of its jurisdiction.

The final phase of the clampdown has not been properly grasped by either the Turks or the international audience

The other independent dailies on the left, such as BirGün, Evrensel and pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem, and the newly launched liberal Özgür Düşünce, are of a lesser concern for Erdoğan, because they have low circulation. So are the handful of news websites, because they reach a limited urban audience.

The final phase of the clampdown has not yet been properly grasped by either the Turks or the international audience following events. While the latest operations are huge bricks in the wall between the Turkish public and the reality asking to be reported, the loss of Zaman to the AKP will have long-term consequences: it is (was) a highly influential newspaper, with a powerful chorus of respected, mainly liberal, reformist commentators and analysts, widely read and quoted by the international elite.

The time has come to admit that what’s left of journalism in Turkey is a wreck. While a core of bold journalists will go on challenging the shift to despotic rule, questions remain whether the EU will feel any shame at all for its apathy, and if our colleagues across the world will be able to do anything to prevent the funeral taking place.