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Turkey Downgraded to “Not Free” by Press Freedom Watchdog

Turkey has fallen into the “not free” category of countries ranked by Freedom House’s annual “Freedom of the Press” survey, with the NGO watchdog citing a steady decline in how Ankara treats journalists:

The region’s largest numerical change occurred in Turkey, which declined from 56 to 62 points and moved from Partly Free to Not Free. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and expression are only partially upheld in practice, undermined by restrictive provisions in the criminal code and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Turkey remained the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2013, with 40 behind bars as of December 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The press freedom climate deteriorated sharply during the year as journalists were harassed and assaulted while attempting to cover the Gezi Park protests that broke out in Istanbul in May, and dozens were fired or forced to resign in response to sympathetic coverage of the protesters’ demands. Other prominent journalists were fired due to their coverage of sensitive issues like negotiations between the government and the PKK or the corruption scandals involving Prime Minister Erdoğan and his associates that emerged in December. The firings highlighted the close relationship between the government and many media owners, and the formal and informal pressure that this places on journalists.

The country has maintained its status as the world’s top jailer of journalists for several years, and journalists who are not behind bars have been expelled from the country for criticizing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AKP) party. A wave of expulsions last February took place amid a broader crackdown on free speech, triggering fears that a systematic sweep was underway.

Multiple Turkish outlets covered the news revolving around Freedom House’s ranking. Hurriyet Daily News wrote up its story under the headline “Turkey no longer even ‘partly free,’ according to press freedom report,” and specifically cited portions of the NGO’s report that discussed how “journalists were harassed while covering the Gezi Park protests and dozens were fired or forced to resign due to their coverage of sensitive issues.”

Zaman covered the same passages, and also described “several high-profile dismissals” of critics at top papers. Israel, meanwhile, was ranked by Freedom House as “free”:

The annual Freedom of the Press report by Freedom House gave Israel the only “free” designation in the Middle East, saying the country upheld media freedoms, though challenges remained.

The Freedom House ranking places Israel with 30 points out of a 100 point scale – where a higher number represents more restrictions on press freedom — a pot just below Papua New Guinea, at 29 points, and Spain and Suriname with 28.

[Photo: Charlie Rose / YouTube]