Journalists in Turkey are still feeling the effects of the crackdown that followed an attempted military coup on July 15, 2016, to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Today, July 15 is celebrated by President Erdogan and his supporters as almost an ‘Independence Day’ to create a new narrative for the foundation of emerging Erdogan regime. Erdogan successfully utilized the attempted coup to eliminate his enemies, control the media and restrict the freedom of expression.
According to Amnesty International some 2,500 journalists and media workers have lost their jobs since the coup attempt and more than 150 media outlets were shut down. The government pressure and repression against the media has increased during the past five years.
By using state of emergency, Turkish Government still continues its restrictions on the media, based on terrorism charges. The failed coup simply is used to justify taking the oppression to new levels.
The coup attempt has created ground where Turkish government has prioritized emergency measures to crack down on media, political parties and NGO’s.
Government interference in judicial matters has also deeply affected Turkey and poisoned judiciary but also polarized politically all the nation. Some journalists have had also responsibilities in this process of demonization of the opponents. Actually, there is no real journalism in the Turkish mainstream media anymore. Independent journalism is carried out on social media, especially on YouTube. The government has been moving to rein in online journalism as well. Thousands of news websites have been blocked. According to ‘Reporters Without Borders’ the independent journalism in Turkey has shrunk dramatically in favor of staunchly pro-government outlets.
Ninety percent of Turkish mainstream media remain under the control of the government.
Since 2001, CPJ has documented the cases of 340 journalists forced into exile after their reporting exposed them to harassment, violence, or imprisonment. They face many difficulties in their new homes, from language and cultural adjustments to emotional and economic hardships.
Continuing his journalism activities in the U.S, Adem Yavuz Arslan, a well-known Turkish investigative journalist based in Washington, D.C, says the language barrier is a big problem for the journalists in exile:
‘To practice journalism in English, it is necessary to know the language where you reside. Even if you have a good level of English, it is not enough. For example, a Syrian immigrant journalist can’t find a job in the Turkish media. Even if you meet all the requirements, it takes a long time to work as a journalist. However, you have your urgent needs at the same time; like food and a place to stay. Therefore, exiled journalists have first to find jobs where they can earn their life. Another point: The exiled journalists is mostly expert on their home country. Their expertise doesn’t work where they live. I am in America. For the American media, I am not that valuable because they have their own experts and reporters in Turkey.’
Adem Yavuz Arslan says that legal issues are also other obstacles for exiled journalists to practice their profession: ‘It takes time for exiled journalists to resolve their legal issues. For example, you need at least 1 year to get a work permit in the USA. You apply for a work permit; it takes 5 months to apply for asylum. It takes one year in total to get a work permit.
‘Also, journalism is a very competitive field. Even many well-educated, native-speaker Americans cannot find jobs as journalists. An American media organization might need my expertise once or twice, but it doesn’t make much sense for an American media organization to hire me. If you would practice journalism in exile, you would face another problem: the content you produce is in Turkish and your target audience is in Turkey. But no media group in Turkey can sponsor you. Because the government defines you as a ‘terrorist’. Even opening your web page and reading it is enough to accuse someone affiliated with terrorism. They can’t even donate you. That’s why I need to do Uber to continue to practice journalism. I wish we could earn our lives from journalism, but it is not that possible.’
For dissident Turkish journalists in exile, life is like constantly navigating a slippery slope that you could never know where the next attack would come from.