Youth Advisory Board: Country and Regional Reports

August 19, 2016


For their monthly task in June the Index on Censorship Youth Advisory Board were asked to write country reports for the Mapping Media Freedom project. The group of young free speech enthusiasts, who were part of the Index-run youth project from January to July, analysed data from the MMF platform to produce a round-up of the media freedom situation in their chosen countries and regions since MMF’s launch two years ago. The reports also highlight any trends seen in the data and analyse some of the more worrying media violations that took place.

Emily Wright – Turkey

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 11.10.06 AM

Over the past 18 months, press freedom has severely deteriorated in Turkey. Journalists have been detained, assaulted and barred from reporting on violence and protests in the country. Arrests have been made on terror charges or during anti-terror operations. Kurdish journalists and news outlets have been disproportionately targeted.

Since the beginning of 2016, three journalists have been killed  while reporting on conflict in Turkey. Journalist Mohammed Zahir al-Shergat died as a result of gunshot wounds during an attack in Gaziantep, for which IS later claimed responsibility.  The body of Rohat Aktaş, an editor for the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Wela, was identified among others in a basement in Cizre — a month after he was shot while covering efforts to help those wounded during clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists. And TV journalist Gülsen Yıldız was killed during an attack on a convoy of military vehicles in Ankara.

Turkish news websites have been blocked and censored with increased regularity.  Turkish courts ordered internet service providers to block access to nearly 200 websites in April 2015 after they posted photos of Mehmet Selim Kiraz, a public prosecutor who was taken hostage and killed the previous month on 31 March. Access to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube were also blocked and only restored once the websites complied with court orders demanding the removal of content. A court order also banned media coverage of the standoff between police and Kiraz’s armed captors.

Of the websites blocked and censored, Kurdish news outlets and websites have been targeted. A number of Kurdish news websites, including Yüksekova Günce, Özgür Gündem, Fırat Haber Ajansı, Dicle Haber Ajansı and Etkin haber Ajansı, have been censored. The website of pro-Kurdish news agency DİHA was blocked  for the 28th time in January of this year by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB). According to their website, it had been censored 37 times by the beginning of May. Turkish judicial authorities have opened an investigation against six journalists and trade unionists for participating in a solidarity campaign with the Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem in May 2016 in celebration of World Press Freedom Day.   Requests have been filed for the journalists and trade unionists to stand trial for  articles deemed “terrorist propaganda” and an “incitement to crime” that were published during their participation in the solidarity campaign.

The government has also seized media outlets including Zaman and Cihan. Zaman is one of the country’s  most highly circulated newspapers. During the seizure of Zaman News Group, German journalist Frank Nordhausen was arrested and held for four hours by Turkish authorities. On  26 October 2015, an Ankara court ordered five media companies owned by Koza İpek to be led by government appointed “trustees”. Two days later, the offices of Koza İpek were stormed and journalists were assaulted.

Temporary broadcast bans were implemented three times following court orders after explosions in Istanbul and Ankara. These bans  prevented news outlets from covering bombings outside of publishing official statements. They were introduced through the Higher Council for Radio and Television (RTUK), a government body which oversees, monitors, regulates, and sanctions radio and television broadcasts. Watchdogs of Turkey’s media freedom are strongly critical of the body, seeing it more as a mouthpiece of the government rather than independent. The bans utilise a 2011 Turkish law that allows the government to institute a temporary blackout to protect public order or national security.

Denying press cards and accreditation  have also been used as a way of silencing journalists and news outlets critical of the government. The beginning of 2015 saw 94 journalists denied press cards. Among the journalists whose requests were rejected  was Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor of newspaper Zaman. Turgay Olcayto, president of the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), criticised the denial of the press cards, saying he hadn’t experienced anything similar before. Press accreditation to cover specific events or stories has also been rejected. An accreditation ban was issued against journalists covering the opening of an airport in the country’s southeastern province of Hakkari, in a move described by the Press council as “undemocratic and unacceptable”. Accreditation bans were also extended to news platforms. Zaman and Sözcü daily newspapers were denied press accreditation from covering the G-20 summit in November 2015.

A number of journalists have been denied entry into the country. American foreign correspondent David Lepeska was detained for 12 hours and then denied entry at Istanbul airport. German journalist Volker Schwenck was denied entry at border, as was Greek photojournalist Giorgos Moutafis among others. In all cases, no reasons were given to the entry ban.

Mark Crawford – Russia

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 11.10.49 AM

A climate of fear and self-censorship through violence and threats is evident in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a situation that  MMF data confirms.

Existing legal avenues to suppress both journalism and political opposition continue to be exploited and broadened. The defamation law is one such avenue. In July 2015, Saratov Oblast Duma deputy Sergei Kurikhin filed a complaint against local reporter Sergei Vilkov, who was responsible for publishing documents  about a police investigation on Kurikhin. This complaint lead to  a raid of Vilkov’s editorial offices. Furthermore,  NGO autonomy continues to suffer in Russia as a result of a 2012 law demanding that all NGOs who participate in “political acts” and receive foreign funding must self-register as “foreign agents”.

In June 2015, a Novaya Gazeta journalist working in Krasnodar was harassed by unidentified assailants after investigating local construction work.

In August 2015, the Foundation to Fight Corruption (FFC), a public initiative founded by blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalnyi, received a warning from state authorities regarding its practices.

Finally, in tandem with this, discourse against extremism is also being used to crush political dissent, and legislation that criminalises extremism, is being used very broadly. For example, the Centre For Regional Media Support and Civic Journalism Development was found guilty of disseminating extremist materials by the Justice of the Peace in the city of Syktyvkar for citing an anti-Semitic nationalist slogan in legal coverage.  On other occasions, there have been  clearer and more targeted efforts to harass journalists. In March 2016, the regional prosecutor’s office in Saint Petersburg warned of consequences for people who write posts deemed radical.

Layli Foroudi  – Crimea

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 11.18.00 AM

The crackdown on freedom of expression in Crimea follows trends in line with general repression tactics used by the Russian government.

Crimea was annexed but the Russian Federation is not recognised as part of Russia by the international community.  On 18 March 2014, following the takeover of the Crimean peninsula by Kremlin-backed forces, Russian and Crimean leaders signed a deal in Moscow to join the region to Russia. The deal was preceded by a referendum, deemed illegal by Ukraine’s government and foreign powers, in which the population voted to become part of the Russian Federation. The majority of population within the peninsula is ethnic Russian, with a sizeable Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar minority groups; the latter make up 13% of the Crimean population and opposed the annexation of the peninsula.

The media has since been monitored to police and censor critical voices and to ensure smooth and complete Russification of the territory.

The charges against journalists and media outlets includes accusations of extremism. In January 2016, the Crimean prosecutor’s office requested that Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor block access to 26 websites for publishing “extremist content”. Most recently reported on Mapping Media Freedom on 14 May, Roskomnadzor blocked a Crimean edition of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Krym Realii, for including an interview with Tatar Mejlis leader, which was  classified as an extremist organisation by Crimea’s supreme court in April this year. In Simferopol, Sevastopol, and Yalta, searches were conducted  at the homes of seven journalists, who were subsequently accused of collaborating with Krym Realii.

Inciting separatism, which includes referring to Crimea as the territory of Ukraine, is punishable by law and can lead to a five-year prison sentence. On 19 April, 2016 Crimean journalist Mykola Semena was accused on grounds of “appeals to violate the territorial integrity of Russia”.

Ukrainian language outlets have also come under attack. On 25 March 2016, the only Ukrainian-language newspaper in Crimea, Krymska Svitlytsya, announced the forced closure of their Crimea office. Furthermore, two Ukrainain websites – and Ukrainska Pravda – were blocked in Crimea according to reports in February 2016.

Censorship is often framed in terms of combatting extremism and separatism, but not always. Even a reporter’s appearance is a suitable pretext for censorship:  Journalist Igor Burdyga was detained by Russian state security services (FSB) for “looking like a thief”; he also happened to be covering the arrests and abductions that Crimean Tatars suffer in the region.

Ian Morse – Hungary

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 11.13.00 AM

Of the 1,859 reports in the MMF database – as recorded 3 June, 2016 – approximately 8% relate to Hungary, totalling to 147 reports.  In Budapest alone there are 120 reports.

Data from the platform indicates that the Hungarian government has been pressuring journalists. In 2015, several reports demonstrated the growth of the government’s hold on the media. In December of that year 129 journalists, editors and foreign correspondents were laid off by Hungary’s umbrella company for public service broadcasters. Politicians also limited press freedom in other ways by charging high fees for freedom of information requests for government data and allowing lawsuits against photographers who publish photos taken in public.

In 2015, migrants entering the country became a national concern, steering the media’s attention in a different direction and leaving freedom behind. In July and August, the press was prevented from entering refugee camps and from publishing photos of refugee children. More recently, police have been implicated in physical assaults and and threatening foreign journalists who attempt to gather information from refugees and migrants. Throughout 2015 police and government representatives  forced journalists to delete photos and barred them from areas near refugee settlements. As the domestic media began to shift its focus from the refugee crisis, it found itself being silenced by public broadcasters’ layoffs and bans from public meetings.

Simon Engelkes – Germany

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 11.14.05 AM

Germany’s public discourse and media landscape is experiencing an increasing polarisation as the refugee crisis continues, with more than one million refugees crossing entering the country over the last year. Attacks on the media have come from within the ranks of right-wing extremists and  have become increasingly violent.

There have been multiple incidents involving vandalism of  media offices. In 2014 a newspaper office was vandalised and the incident  was motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment.  Apparent right-wing extremists wrote graffiti which said “stop asylum craziness”, “no Islam” and “lying press” on the office of newspaper Bad Hersfeld Zeitung in September 2015. The Die Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ) office was also vandalised with the term “lying press” in March 2015.   

Attacks on journalists by perpetrators believed to be associated with the anti-immigrant far right have been  unsystematic and attributed to small groups. For example, reporters  have been assaulted by neo-Nazis or intimidated to stop covering certain topics after receiving threats. In February 2015, a list of fake death notices for leftist journalists appeared online though none of the journalists were injured as a result.. Journalist Helmut Schümann, a columnist with Berlin Tagesspiegel, was assaulted  by a group of people over a column he wrote on xenophobia.

In late 2015,  harassment of journalists and media workers became a regular feature of protests organised by the anti-Islam movement Pegida, Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident, and the anti-immigration political party AfD, Alternative for Germany. “We are the people” and “lying press” came to be the main slogans of both groups. Throughout 2015 journalists were prevented from talking to protesters at Pegida events and in many cases racially insulted, physically assaulted and had  their equipment destroyed.

In February 2016, a journalist was banned from covering an AfD party conference in Demmin, northern Germany, while a month beforehand, three journalists were assaulted at one of the party’s protests in Marburg.  One news portal decided to stop covering Pegida’s protests in Leipzig due to the lack of security, and public broadcaster Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) accused the police of stepping in too late or not at all and even taking action against media workers instead of the attackers. On  26 February  state governor and head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, discredited public television channels’ coverage of the refugee crisis as “having little to do with reality” and referred to coverage of the “Cologne attacks”, where TV station ZDF admitted neglecting or holding back reports about allegations of sexual assault against immigrants due to the sensitivity of the issue. Former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich criticised the broadcaster and referred to the situation as a “silence cartel”.

In the most recent case, comedy show host and satirist Jan Böhmermann is facing criminal charges and death threats over a poem, titled Abusive Criticism Or Schmähgedicht, that he wrote about Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan. The poem, which German chancellor Angela Merkel called “consciously hurtful” and unacceptable because of little-known section 103 of the country’s criminal law which states insulting leaders of foreign countries is punishable with up to five years imprisonment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted  a request from the Turkish government, an important partner in the new refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey, to allow the prosecution of the TV host under section 103 and the defamation complaint filed by president Erdogan himself.  As a result, a district court banned some “offensive” parts of the poem.



Mapping Media Freedom
Be part of the reporting network
and report threats against media freedom here.