VOA documentary explores erosion of press freedom under Erdoğan’s rule

Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday released “Turkey: Breaking the Silence,” a new documentary exploring the erosion of freedom of the press in Turkey during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s almost two-decade-long rule.

In a press release the US Congress-funded international broadcaster said under Erdoğan’s administration Turkey became a top jailer of journalists where independent media outlets are targeted and government censorship is on the rise.

The documentary tells part of the story of how, using different methods such as tax fines, criminal investigations, threats and intimidation, Erdoğan was able to fundamentally change Turkey’s media landscape.

“Turkey’s story is a lesson in the fragility of democracy,” says acting VOA Director Yolanda Lopez. “This case study demonstrates the importance and power of a free and independent media in preserving democratic freedoms around the world – a warning for nations now struggling with authoritarianism.”

The documentary also discusses how Erdoğan tries to muzzle the Internet, the last bastion of critical journalists, with a social media law that came into force on October 1. Even before the new law went into effect, Turkish police investigated 14,186 social media accounts in the first seven months of 2020, taking legal action against 6,743 of them on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda, inciting the public to hatred and enmity, instilling fear in and causing panic among the public or containing provocative content.

The documentary shares the views of citizens, journalists and activists whose stories help explain the forces driving media repression. People interviewed include journalist and novelist Ece Temelkuran, TV anchor Fatih Portakal and singer and political commentator Atilla Taş.

The press release says the film reveals “how deep divisions in Turkish society and politics, combined with autocratic power, have evolved to quash critical news coverage and stifle free speech.”

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 175 journalists are behind bars and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large. Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”

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