UNAOC cancels Press Freedom Day event over pressure from Turkey

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) indefinitely postponed an event at the UN on Thursday to observe World Press Freedom Day after the News Literacy Project (NLP) refused UNAOC’s request to remove references in their presentation to several countries where press freedom is limited, Alan Miller of NLP reported.

The references are in videos from a new lesson on international press freedoms that was to be introduced at the event. The videos include remarks about severe restrictions on press freedom in Turkey, Mexico and Egypt and comments by Russian and Pakistani journalists describing the challenges they face.

According to Miller, NLP submitted the presentation to UNAOC on Monday so it would be ready to be shared with the audience. A UNAOC official then asked NLP to delete the reference to Turkey — which, along with Spain, had proposed the creation of UNAOC in 2005 — and the official later insisted that NLP not share any of the video clips.

“I could not permit this censorship of our presentation due to the stated concern that it would offend one or more countries engaged in repression and violence against journalists. We at NLP find UNAOC’s decision particularly ironic because the event was to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. We had not discussed prior review of our presentation with UNAOC and would not have agreed to participate if it had been asked,” Miller wrote.

In an email on Wednesday, UNAOC told the panelists and more than 150 registered attendees that the long-planned event was being postponed “until future notice” because of another event at the UN scheduled at the same time, despite the fact that the events were planned well in advance.


Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), National Journalists Union (SNJ) and CFDT-Journalists voiced concern for journalists jailed in Turkey and expressed solidarity with them in a program organized for World Press Freedom Day in Paris.

Speaking at a gathering in front of Paris’ historic municipal building, Anthony Bellanger, secretary-general of the IFJ, described Turkey as the world’s worst jailer of journalists.

The names of the jailed Turkish journalists appeared on a banner at the venue with a picture of Erdoğan, with a call to him to release the 151 journalists who are currently in prison.

“Under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism law and state of emergency, journalism itself has been criminalized. Reporters face prison merely for doing their job. More than a hundred media outlets have been closed down since the plot [on July 15, 2016,” said former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily and exiled journalist Can Dündar in a message read out at the event.

Expressing how the Turkish media had come under the control of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Dündar called on the international media and journalists to help Turkish journalists in their fight.

“Please open your pages to the prisoners of thought. Give them a chance to write for your paper. Read their books, novels, poems and news stories. Go to Turkey to observe our hearings. Let the world hear our voice of freedom.”

A Turkish journalist who is in exile in France also addressed the gathering. Reading out the names of jailed journalists Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu, Nazlı Ilıcak, brother Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Cumhuriyet journalist Seda Taşkın, journalist Zehra Doğan shared the actual numbers of journalists jailed in Turkey.

Amnesty International (AI) has also launched a special social media campaign for Turkey on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. “Since the coup attempt in July 2016, the authorities have jailed more than 120 journalists on baseless ‘terrorism offences’, and media organisations deemed critical of the government have been culled, with at least 180 outlets closed down,” AI said on its web-site.

The organisation posted photographs of journalists around the world showing their solidarity with colleagues jailed in Turkey and asked from followers to post their own selfies with the #FreeTurkeyMedia hashtag.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 25. 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.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 254 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 62 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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, including Kurdish TVs and papers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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