Empty columns and Turkish media

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By Faruk Bildirici

Hurriyet

Every Monday is a new source of sorrow for me. My pieces are printed on daily Hürriyet’s ombudsman’s column section, but daily Cumhuriyet ombudsman Güray Öz’s column has been empty for weeks. Öz has been in prison for the past 92 days along with the other writers and administrators of Cumhuriyet.

Daily Milliyet’s ombudsperson Belma Akçura’s pieces are not being printed on her paper either. The last “Ombudsman Corner” was printed on Nov. 21, 2016.

It was only four newspapers in Turkey that featured ombudsman corners, and now two of them are not functioning. My colleagues, with whom I worked as part of the same generation, have been forced into “not doing their jobs as journalists,” which is a hurtful epitome that depicts the current situation of the media.

It doesn’t stop there. Every time I enter my office, there is another situation that reminds me of our state.

The office next to mine has been closed for the past two months. The office was once Doğan Holding Ankara Representative Barbaros Muratoğlu’s, who has been deprived of his freedom since Dec. 1, 2016. He is also among those in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison.

Moreover, the number of journalists in jail is increasing every passing day. According to the Contemporary Journalists Association, the number of journalists in prison has reached 147. According to BİA Media Observation Report, prepared by Erol Önderoğlu, the number of journalists undergoing trails is 229. During October and December 2016, there have been 12 gag orders, and 24 media outlets have been shut down.

The number of unemployed journalists is now enunciated in thousands. According to Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, our country is ranked 151st among 180 countries.

The situation of our media was also criticized by ONO, Organization of News Ombudsmen and Standards Editors.

ONO, which I am also a member of, is a respectable professional organization that links ombudsmen and standards editors from all across the world.

Esther Enkin, the president of ONO, sent a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan through our embassy in Ottawa. Enkin, in her letter, called for the immediate release of Güray Öz and all journalists who have been detained while doing their jobs in an impartial and independent manner.

The letter read, “Dear President Erdoğan, The Organization of News Ombudsmen and Standards Editors strongly urges the Turkish government to release Güray Öz, the ombudsman of Cumhuriyet newspaper. We also call on the Turkish government to immediately release all journalists who have been detained when doing their jobs in an impartial and independent manner.”

“ONO is an international organization with members across the globe – North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Its members are associated with some of the most influential media companies in the world. Our organization stands for a free and accountable news media. Ombudsmen and journalists have a democratic duty to report openly and fairly and sometimes critically of governments. We call on the Turkish government to respect the rule of the law and the freedom of the press,” the letter said.

I hope 2017 will be a year our journalist friends in jail will be freed and the dark clouds over the media will be dispersed…

This column was originally published in Hurriyet on 31 January, 2017.

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