Newspapers in the UK need to do more to highlight the plight of individual journalists jailed in Turkey, the Society of Editors conference was told.
Speaking as part of a panel session looking at freedom of expression worldwide at the Society’s ‘Fighting for Real News’ conference this week, Yavuz Baydar, an exiled Turkish journalist, urged UK newspapers to “adopt” a journalist jailed in the country and highlight their plight as a means of putting pressure on the Erdogan government.
While organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch were campaigning for the release of journalists in the country, he said, their condemnation had so far failed to achieve results and the support of the wider public and newspapers in the UK could increase pressure in the country.
He said: ““The difficulties in Turkey are huge and the situation is dreadful. We are victims of an irrational and acrimonious force that is barbaric in the way it is criminalising journalism.
“Whatever you do – if it is critical – you now face jail and you face court cases. Self-censorship has been vast with 90% of the Turkish media sector now in direct or indirect control by the government.
“The situation is more than desperate. People must care today because if they don’t this wave is going to continue to creep into all democratic societies where the media is operating. You have to care beyond the borders.”
Baydar suggested that UK media organisations could publicise the plight of individual journalists in the country.
He said: “Individual newspapers in the UK need to look at the adoption of each and every journalist [in Turkey]. Follow his or her case on a daily basis. Treat them as your honorary journalist or your honorary member of staff and care about this person. Report what happens to his family and his financial situations. This is what will bring the situation to a higher level of awareness.”
In 2013, Baydar was fired from his newspaper for daring to expose police brutality during the Gezi Park demonstrations. In August 2016 in the aftermath of the attempted coup against President Erdogan, he was forced into exile when the police raided his house looking to arrest him.
Earlier this year Baydar was awarded the Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award by the United Nations for being what they described as “a leading voice against the authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime, and a fearless voice of truth on the world stage.”
Asked by Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship whether Turkish journalists now face the threat of jail for reporting anything that isn’t the government line Baydar said that freedom of expression in Turkey was now akin to the regime in Syria.
He added: “You never know what you face when you tweet one single line or if you write an article. It is a poisonous system operating now, like the ones you see in Syria or Azerbaijan, that somebody who whispers to somebody and that goes up to the upper echelons of the political sphere and you suddenly hear the knocks on the door.
“It is a nightmare situation in a country that is still negotiating membership of the European Union.”
Watch the full session on Freedom of Expression worldwide here.