Turkey has moved up three places to 154th in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which examines the status of press freedom in 180 countries and territories around the world, although the media freedom watchdog still describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”
“The witch-hunt waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government against its media critics came to a head in the wake of an abortive coup in July 2016. After the elimination of dozens of media outlets and the acquisition of Turkey’s biggest media group by a pro-government conglomerate, the authorities are tightening their grip on what little is left of pluralism – a handful of media outlets that are being harassed and marginalized. Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists. Spending more than a year in prison before trial is the new norm, and long jail sentences are common, in some cases as long as life imprisonment with no possibility of a pardon. Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any effective legal recourse. The rule of law is a fading memory in the ‘New Turkey’ of paramount presidential authority. Censorship of websites and online social media has reached unprecedented levels and the authorities are now trying to bring online video services under control. Turkey’s military involvement in Libya and in Syria (along the border and in Idlib), and the migrant issue have expanded the range of topics that are subject to censorship and self-censorship and have increased use of the judicial system for political ends,” RSF stated.
EU has lost its leadership capacity
The index claimed that confronted by “illiberal democracies,” the “fight against terrorism” and the economic crisis, the European Union has largely lost its leadership capacity. “Even if some member countries lead the world in respect for media freedom, the European Union is getting more and more heterogeneous. Challenged by ‘illiberal democracies,’ the ‘fight against terrorism’ and the economic crisis, it has largely lost its leadership capacity. With a few exceptions, the picture is disastrous in the east and south of the continent. In Russia and Turkey, the persecution of government critics has reached levels not seen for two decades. The despots in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Central Asia keep on increasing their control over news and information.”
The main findings of the 2020 index
Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands are ranked in the first five places in the index, respectively. There is little change at either end of the index. “Norway tops the Index for the fourth year in a row in 2020, while Finland is again the runner-up. Denmark (up 2 at 3rd) is next as both Sweden (down 1 at 4th) and the Netherlands (down 1 at 5th) have fallen as a result of increases in cyber-harassment. The other end of the Index has seen little change. North Korea (down 1 at 180th) has taken the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea (178th) continues to be Africa’s worst-ranked country,” according to the 2020 index.
Crises threatening journalism’s future
The 2020 edition of the index identified five potential threats for press freedom in the coming 10 years. “[T]he next ten years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies); a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).”