100 Days since the Failed Coup in Turkey
Interview with Orhan Erinç, President of Turkey’s oldest and leading independent newspaper Cumhuriyet, Laureate of the 2016 Right Livelihood Award
This week marked one hundred days since the failed coup in Turkey. Since then, there have been a number of arrests spanning various groups, including journalists. This has come alongside tightening of other freedoms via an extended state of emergency, leaving the future of Turkish democracy under threat. Orhan Erinç, the President of Turkey’s oldest and leading independent newspaper, Cumhuriyet, Laureate of the 2016 Right Livelihood Award, reflects on the freedom of the press.
How heavily did the coup effect the press in the short term?
Pressure is applied, and not only to journalists. Even teachers, academics, writers, artists are put under pressure, often through thousands of lawsuits for libel – put forward by the President personally. People are afraid to express their criticism of the President and the government. The media are either directly or indirectly under the control of the government; few media outlets remain – such as Cumhuriyet – that are not under the control of the government. These few independent newspapers are still trying to defend their professional ethic, but they fear serious consequences.
What pressures does the Turkish government put on your editorial team?
We receive a lot of hostility from the government, and hostility in Turkey means more than just rhetorical attacks. The consequence can be a real, physical threat by Islamists. We cannot take part in many government press conferences: we are simply not invited. Critical newspapers do not get public advertisements, and even private companies are intimidated so they do not advertise in critical media. Currently, official groups attempt to get the Cumhuriyet Foundation under control by illegal methods.
What are the longer term impacts being caused by the continuing state of emergency?
I think that whether Turkey is still a democratic state, with rule of law, is controversial. Today laws and even the Constitution are bypassed by the government. The AKP uses the present situation and decrees to pursue their own goals and suppress critics. By prolonging the state of emergency the structure of the country will change according to the will of the government. On the way to building up a presidential system and gaining power over his Party, Erdogan views any criticism in the media as a hindrance. The President thinks that only with press forced into line can he achieve his goal.
How does social media contribute to countering the repressive treatment of the press in Turkey?
Many people who criticize the government in social media are also attacked. There are groups in social media called “white trolls” (AK trol), who are controlled from a center. These “white trolls” threaten critics and try to exert pressure: the government is trying to bring the social media under their control as well.
Turkey now has the largest number of journalists in jail of any country in the world – do you see press freedoms returning to the country in the near future?
I’ve been a journalist since 1957. I have lived through several coups, coup attempts, states of emergency. All of them have shaken up democracy in Turkey, but the painful times never lasted too long. I think that now, too, we do not have the right to be pessimistic or hopeless.