Turkey, which has jailed more than 250 journalists and media workers, is ranked 157th among 180 countriesin the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday.
If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
As the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, Turkey has managed to fall another two places in the past year, which saw a succession of mass trials, according to RSF.
“The climate of hatred is steadily more visible in the Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year. Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (down two at 157th) and Egypt (161st), where ‘media-phobia’ is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned,” said RSF.
According to the index, the former Soviet countries and Turkey continue to be at the forefront of the worldwide decline in press freedom. Almost two-thirds of the region’s countries are ranked somewhere near or below the 150th position in the index. The region’s overall indicator has sunk almost as low as that of Middle East/North Africa, the region that is last in the ranking by region.
“Press freedom in Russia and Turkey has sunk to levels that are without precedent in more than three decades, a decline that is all the more worrying because of the influence that these two countries exert on the surrounding region,” said RSF.
“The world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, Turkey (157th) has managed to fall another two places in the past year, which saw a succession of mass trials. After more than a year in provisional detention, dozens of journalists have begun to be tried for alleged complicity in the July 2016 coup attempt. The first sentences to be handed down have included life imprisonment. The state of emergency in effect for nearly two years in Turkey has allowed the authorities to eradicate what was left of pluralism, opening the way for a constitutional reform consolidating President Erdogan’s grip on the country. The rule of law is now just a fading memory. That was confirmed by the failure to carry out a constitutional court ruling in January 2018 ordering the immediate release of two imprisoned journalists.”
Moreover, growing animosity towards journalists is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt, the Paris-based RSF said, citing the United States under President Donald Trump, which has fallen two places to 45th this year. “The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”
Criticism of the news media by politicians and media personalities was also particularly virulent during the French presidential election campaign in 2017, it said.
Although Britain remained at its current rank in 40th place this year, RSF warned about insufficient protection for whistleblowers, journalists and their sources under the Investigatory Powers Act, which it called “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history.”
“A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security) has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index,” RSF said.
In this year’s Index, Norway is first for the second year running, followed – as it was last year – by Sweden (2nd). Although traditionally respectful of press freedom, the Nordic countries have also been affected by the overall decline. Undermined by a case threatening the confidentiality of a journalist’s sources, Finland (down one at 4th) has fallen for the second year running, surrendering its third place to the Netherlands. At the other end of the Index, North Korea (180th) is still last.
The index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen” and rival models. After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia. Their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the Index such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th) and Azerbaijan (163rd).
When it’s not despots, it’s war that helps turn countries into news and information black holes – countries such as Iraq (down two at 160th), which this year joined those at the very bottom of the index where the situation is classified as “very bad.” There have never been so many countries that are coloured black on the press freedom map.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 259 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 200 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 141 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.