The European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), in cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) Turkey and the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Turkey kicked off its new project titled “The Future of Europe & Turkey Through Education”. The online training programme builds on identified best practises of the Turkey Training and Lecture Programme 2018-2020 (TTP) and it covers the following topics: privacy, disinformation, media freedom and fundraising.
The four online sessions, which began on the 26th November, bring together a group of around 40 opinion shapers composed of members of Civil Society organisations (CSO), journalists/bloggers, students and academics across Turkey.
The third training was dedicated to Transparency and Investigative Journalism, and featured opening remarks by Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, ENC Managing Director, who mentioned, among other things, that media freedom is currently at risk not only in Turkey but also in member states of the European Union. He highlighted the importance of transparency and journalism as a basic societal right and paved the way for the panel discussion which featured presentations by Dr. Ronald Meinardus, Project Director at Friedrich Naumann Foundation Turkey, Nafisa Hasanova, Senior Project Manager at Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and Asli Ece Kocak, Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Editor and Project Coordinator.
Dr. Ronald Meinardus started by depicting the dramatic conclusion from the Istanbul Policy Center that Turkey is no longer a candidate country but now an adversary of the EU. The growing distance between the EU and Turkey is also due to the normative and liberal framework that the EU comes with, when Turkey is becoming less and less politically European. Dr. Meinardus shared a personal anecdote of his travel to Germany from Turkey after the first wave of COVID-19, during which he experienced the difference between Turkish and German newspapers, the first being very broad and general, the second giving more precise details and statistics. The issue of transparency is particularly relevant in such times, because the pandemic concerns everyone’s health and freedom, and it is essential to be able to rely on correct information in order to adjust our behavior.
Dr. Meinardus referred to transparency and investigative journalism as being two sides of the same coin: transparency being the objective, and investigative journalism the instrument to achieve it. The reason that transparency is important, is because it provides citizens and voters all information on which they can make a sound judgement on the election day. It allows the citizens to understand the problems that confront society, and politicians to take their concerns seriously. Finally, it also creates a safeguard preventing the misuses of power, and openness regarding the political process. These are essential conditions for people to trust their system, which is key in the implementation of a democratic order.
Nafisa Hasanova explained the RWB global project of mapping media ownership, with the objective to create a database of the most influential media outlets and companies in several countries, as well as their ownership structures, including their political and business affiliation.
Ms. Hasanova then focused on the challenges that investigative journalists usually face. First, there is the lack of funding, as investigative journalism is one of the most underfunded form of journalism. The most common response to this is to apply for foreign grants, but journalists are then more likely to be discredit and seen as serving the interests of foreign countries. Second is the polarization, which is particularly important in Turkey, and leaves little to no ground for middle way. When you can only be for or against something, there is no safe space for questions. Polarization also endanger the safety of journalists, as they are not only facing their government but also their own readers. Third, the weakness of public institutions, especially those collecting data, often unavailable or outdated, makes it harder to know who really owns the media company.
To conclude, Ms. Hasanova emphasized the importance of being part of a solid network of journalists having different expertise in order to understand multifold issues, as well as to identify the different stakeholders in a given country and the relationship you can have with them (can you work with them, should you be transparent, can they sabotage your project?).
Asli Ece Kocak explained her role in the MLSA: monitoring trials of journalists across Turkey, and report on Human Rights and fair trial violations. She acknowledged that the biggest problems in Turkey at the moment is media ownership, as over 90% of the media are owned by businesspeople, especially construction conglomerates that are financially dependent on the government. After the 2016 coup, the erosion of mainstream media credibility led to a growing importance of foreign media such as the BBC, Sputnik and Voice of America. Journalists are also facing growing precarity, both because finding outlet to work for is omplicated, and because there is a very low level of unionizing, which make them particularly vulnerable.
Ms. Kocak cited several examples of court cases and legal harassment that journalists faced from the Turkish government. Finance journalists are particularly attacked, as Pelin Ünker, which participated in revealing offshore accounts of government members, now facing several criminal and civil lawsuits, which can also create a chilling effect on other journalists who want to work on those issues. Journalists reporting on the anti-terror law and state violence are also getting targeted. For example, 4 journalists were recently arrested because of their report on 2 citizens being tortured by military officials.
In conclusion, all speakers emphasized the importance of operating carefully within legal limitations and be aware of the red lines when trying to become an investigative journalist in Turkey, as safety should always be the most important priority.
The last online session of this year’s training programme will take place on the 8th of December and will emphasize on Mapping access to Funding in Turkey.