Turkey's journalists under threat of intimidation, experts say
Caught between low wages, censorship and job insecurity, the quality of journalist's work and freedom of the press is being jeopardised.
By Ozgur Ogret for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 18/09/12
While imprisoned reporters and threatened columnists regularly make headlines in the media, journalists struggle with other problems such as low unionisation rates, low wages and poor job security, all of which affect the quality of media in Turkey.
A Turkish reporter waits outside a police station as she covers a story. [Reuters]
Journalists and their supporters march during a protest against the arrests of journalists in Istanbul March 13th 2011. [Reuters]
Journalists and activists participate in a rally calling for press freedom in central Ankara March 19th 2011. [Reuters]
There are more than 30,000 journalists employed in print media alone, according to the Statistical Institute of Turkey. Add to this radio, television and internet, and there are as many as 100,000 people employed in media.
Ercan Ipekci, head of the Journalists Union of Turkey, told SES Türkiye that roughly 5 percent – 5,000 journalists – are represented by a union.
"The struggle we always had was this: the journalist should be under protection not only from the government, but from his own media boss for the freedom of the press, for editorial independence," Ipekci told SES Türkiye.
Stephen Pearse, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, said many journalists in Turkey are afraid because they don't have protection.
"They are afraid to speak the truth," Pearse said. "I think it's a problematic issue that so few people are organised in Turkey. I understand here in Turkey you have many different organisations but only one union for journalists. It would be of big importance to join forces, I think."
Oliver Vujovic, secretary general of the South East Europe Media Organisation, said the issue of threatened journalists is widespread.
"I can speak of our regional experience that this is not a specific Turkish problem," Vujovic told SES Türkiye, adding that it would also be in the interest of media owners to have a good, organised group of journalists.
"A good union system also means security for the media owner," he said, noting that organisation would allow owners to plan better for the future of their businesses.
Journalists employed by media controlled by the big holdings companies have no defence when the boss demands censorship for their own interests or that of the holding company. Yet, their problems are not limited to the big media, nor does it make a difference whether the media organ is pro- or anti-government.
"From the furthest right to the furthest left, there is labour exploitation everywhere," Ipekci said, adding that the only solution is the organisation of journalists.
The problems journalists face change little no matter the size of the media organ. Low pay ranging from 1000 to 2000TL per month, or no pay for those looking to enter the industry, is common. But more importantly, lack of job security plagues the entire industry
"The journalists are very unhappy," veteran journalist and writer Ertugrul Mavioglu told SES Türkiye.
"An employee acting different than what is demanded means directly being threatened with their job." This eliminates the journalists who use their own minds, who have ideas to produce proper and true news, according to Mavioglu. This in turn affects the quality of the news being produced. "Both the economic and personal rights problems journalists are having make them unhappy, lacking the motivation for proper production."
Ipekci said that although journalists cannot be fired directly for joining the union according the law, the same laws present no advantage for unionisation either.
Any kind of excuse, from accusations of low productivity to causing uneasiness in the workplace may be used against the journalist. Practices to force journalists to quit such as not giving assignments or giving assignments but not using the work are also observed.
Ahmet Abakay, head of the Progressive Journalists Association, said although there are people who earn very handsomely in the media sector, the people who actually produce the news are barely surviving.
"The labourer who does not, cannot work in security cannot be fruitful no matter what field. This also applies to the media. As media organizations we have focused so much on the other prominent subjects – arrests, detainments, censorship, self-censorship -- that there is no time and opportunity to talk about the actual problem, personal rights. This is what we actually should talk about," Abakay said.