The Turkish news outlet Artı Gerçek published reporter Esra Tur's interview with me today on threats to press freedom internationally and the experience of covering the case of Reza Zarrab, the gold trader behind a multibillion dollar scheme to launder money to Iran.
The article was published in Turkish (click here), and I am reprinting the original Q&A is in English below:
Q: How Turkey's growing force toward the press been seen in America's media outlets?
A: Informed U.S. reporters and outlets will view the Turkish government’s attacks against journalists as a threat to press freedom everywhere. We live in an interconnected world, and many major outlets here have bureaus in Istanbul. If news outlets cannot guarantee the liberty and safety of their reporters in a country, that threatens freedom of information globally.
Any journalist working in Turkey today is doing so in a nation that jails more reporters than any other in the country in the world. Truthfully reporting the news should not be treated as a criminal offense. Journalism is not a crime.
Q: Have government or media organizations issued any kind of reactions?
During my coverage of the Atilla trial, the U.S. Department of State sent me this statement:
“We are seriously concerned by the pattern of Turkish officials taking actions that appear to target those whose views differ from the government. We firmly believe that freedom of expression, including for speech and the media – even speech which some find controversial and uncomfortable – strengthens democracy and needs to be respected and protected. We urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, fair trial guarantees, judicial independence and other human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York City-based media advocacy group, recently issued “Press Oppressors” awards. Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald J. Trump came out with multiple “prizes.”
Luckily, the U.S. Constitution protects journalists from the worst of Trump’s anti-press impulses, but his actions here send embolden other world leaders to clamp down on the press where there are no such protections. So Trump's statements against the media here have an impact globally.
Q: Has this issue been in the American press and how often?
The answer is sadly not often enough, but the message does get out here occasionally. Here are some recent headlines.
Washington Post: “What is an imprisoned journalist worth? For Turkey, it might be a German arms purchase.” (Jan. 25, 2018)
Newsweek: “In Turkey, Erdoğan Mounts a Christmas Purge of Journalists” (Jan. 3, 2018)
Voice of America: “Journalists Arrested in Turkey Over Syrian Military Operation Dissent” (Jan. 23, 2018)
Of course, it is an issue that I am also constantly monitoring.
Q: What is the general critical evaluation about it?
Every independent media advocacy group, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, has assessed the Turkish government’s treatment of the press as one of the most repressive in the world.
Q: Do you think international community’s reaction is enough?
As a journalist, it is not my place to suggest policies for any other country or international body, but clearly what is being done now is not enough to stand up for journalism. Every study of the issue has confirmed that press freedom is getting worse around the world, especially but not only in Turkey.
Q: How do you think that affects Turkey's reputation abroad?
Government repression of the press always damages a country’s reputation around the world.
If journalists will not travel there for fear of arrest, fewer outside will get to know the Turkey that I long to visit – a country of enchanting beauty, rich history, and transcendent music, literature, and culture.
After all, reporters are the eyes and ears of those who are not there to witness an event, and to repress journalists is to deprive the broader public of what we see and hear.