After the arrest of seven more journalists in Turkey recently and the tightening of media laws in Romania and Hungary, advocates of press freedom in the EU are starting to sweat.
According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, 58 reporters are currently behind bars in Turkey, and the jail sentences continue to be handed out. The arguments between the press and the politicians are intensifying. On Tuesday 15 March, the Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the foreign media of aiding a ”defamation campaign” against him and hit out at his own press for ‘smearing his government’.
On the same day, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said:
“If there are genuine reasons to suppose that any journalists have committed crimes outside the scope of their journalistic work, then those reasons should be transparent to the journalists themselves, to their defence lawyers and to the rest of us.”
The EU has painted Turkey with the bright colours of ‘Muslim democracy’. But the frowning has begun over the restrictions of the press being dished out from Ankara. The government there is very wary of anything with a hint of the alleged plan to bring down Mr Tayyip Erdogan’s administration in 2003, the so-called Ergenekon plot.
The EU is worried that Turkey, its crucial link between the continent and the Islamic world, (and possible future partner), is heading down a slippery slope. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele affirmed that
“as a candidate country, we expect Turkey to implement core democratic principles and enable varied, pluralistic debate in public space”.
But there is also concern for what is happening within the confines of the club itself. Romania has amended its broadcast law six times in the past year. Hungary recently warned during its presidency of the EU that other members should keep their noses out of Hungarian internal affairs. This came in response to the concern expressed over Budapest’s new media laws.
During a time when the economy is causing European leaders a real headache, press freedom issues must not be sidelined. Turkey is whipping up a stir with journalistic events there and this is not what the EU needs, with the country being Europe’s ‘democratic’ route into the Maghreb and the turmoil there. If it wants to continue to put Turkey on a pedestal, it needs to demand rigorous assurances from Ankara on press freedom.