At a time of alarming developments centred on the Kurdish issue, Reporters Without Borders is today publishing a report exploring the relationship between this issue and media freedom in Turkey. The report is the result of two visits to Istanbul and Diyarbakir, southeastern Anatolia’s biggest city.
Three months after fighting resumed between government forces and Kurdish rebels led by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and two weeks before new parliamentary elections, Turkey is again a powder keg. Dramatic events on the political and security front are being accompanied by increased attacks on media freedom.
It is against this backdrop that Reporters Without Borders is releasing its report entitled “Media freedom is part of the solution to the Kurdish issue.”
The report documents the increase in censorship and the hopes that were previously raised during the two-year-long peace process between the government and the PKK. As long as the negotiations continued, the media were able to cover the Kurdish issue more freely because that is what the government wanted.
But this tolerance was very fragile due to the limited nature of the reforms undertaken and the lack of judicial independence, and its fragility facilitated the renewed crackdown, especially as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian government has been increasingly intolerant of any criticism in recent years.
Reporters Without Borders situates this analysis in the long history of taboos and repression linked to coverage of the Kurdish issue, which continues to leave a deep mark on the Turkish media. The report also describes the difficulties of journalists working close to the conflict in southeastern Anatolia.
“Only thorough reforms and democratization in Turkey will make it permanently possible for the Turkish media to cover the Kurdish issue,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“But the opposite is happening. The increased censorship will just exacerbate the frustrations and fuel political and communal tension. As a matter of urgency, the authorities must reverse this trend and accept that, more than ever, freedom of information is part of the solution.”
The report makes it clear that the media have a key role to play in reporting what is taking place and facilitating a democratic debate between the various segments of a highly polarized society. Putting names to problems, allowing voices to be heard and creating a space for democratic debate are essential conditions for peace.
At the same time, only an end to the fighting will allow the state to evolve beyond its current paranoid approach and focus on security, and enable it to develop a culture of transparency and respect for the media. The report ends with recommendations for the Turkish government, judicial institutions, journalists and civil society.