On the 31st of May 2013, during the Gezi Park Protests, the police cracked down on the protesters in Taksim Square with water canons and tear gas grenades. I turned on my television to watch the news after such an eventful day and was dumbfounded to see a documentary about penguins in major news networks like CNN Turk. From then on, I unfortunately started to follow the news about my country via the foreign media and Twitter.
By Piril Özgercin
I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was little coverage of the protests given that individuals close to the government own many of the crucial media outlets in Turkey. The networks demonstrating any form of opposition against government policy are taxed more heavily and driven to bankruptcy. Take Dogan Holding as an instance: Dogan Holding used to own three mainstream Turkish newspapers (Hürriyet, Vatan and Milliyet) that occasionally dared to voice their opposition to the government. After uncovering a government-related aid scandal in 2008, Dogan Holding received a major tax penalty consisting of $2.5b dollars. In the following years, Dogan Holding had to sell two of the three newspapers it owned to a pro-government business group in order to save itself from bankruptcy. In 2011, more major news outlets such as ATV and Sabah were sold to Çalık Holding (surprisingly managed by our former Prime Minister/new President’s son in law).
After learning about news like these, no one should find it implausible that it is not only left-wing protesters who are displeased with the regime’s press freedom record, but also key international bodies. In fact, Turkey is ranked as the 154th country out of 180 countries covered in Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 World Press Freedom Index. Nor should it be a shock that Turkey has the highest record of imprisoned journalists among all of these countries. Again, unsurprisingly, most of these journalists were arrested for allegedly “plotting to overthrow the government” under the anti-terror laws.
There goes my dream of working in the domestic journalism sector. Unfortunately, Turkey still fails to meet the international criteria measuring democracy. For example, it does not provide its citizens equal chances for an “enlightened understanding” of matters relating to public interest as evidenced by such an extensive record of censorship and limited political discourse.
Following this enforced media moratorium, it was not only the public interest that was obstructed but also the public expression. Henceforth started the phenomenon of self-censorship. Everyone started to think twice before posting anything political on the social media after several social media activists were arrested over their critical Tweets following the Gezi Park Protests. Having grown so accustomed to that feeling of fear, I still have the remnants of this anxiety when publishing this article. Those are the psychological effects of repression and censorship on a population: a constant sense of paranoia and caution. What people consider as a birth right in some countries is a privilege in others. Hopefully, the future generations of Turkey will be immersed in them through our endeavours.