A union of Turkish journalists has filed a legal complaint against an Ankara-based think-tank, alleging that a report published by it makes dozens of journalists working for foreign media organisations “public targets”.
Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders File: Murad Sezer/Reuters
The 202-page report, which was released by the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA) on Friday, lists foreign news networks with Turkish services, such as the United Kingdom’s BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle, as well as the Turkish journalists who work for them, including detailed information about their past work.
The text includes comments about social media posts of those mentioned in the report in relation to a number of topics, including a coup attempt in 2016, the Kurdish issue and the Turkish economy.
It also encourages the public to contact authorities whenever they see “wrong content directly targeting Turkey”.
SETA describes itself as an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan think-tank, but observers say it has close ties with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
In its legal complaint, which was obtained by Al Jazeera, the Turkish Union of Journalist on Monday alleged that publicly available information on the journalists was “cherry-picked” and put together in a “manipulative” manner.
“The journalists were blacklisted in a file, and their journalism activities were portrayed as crimes,” said the complaint, which was filed in Istanbul at noon.
The union called on the Istanbul prosecutor’s office to investigate the report over the alleged crimes of “recording of personal information” and “inciting people to hatred”.
A SETA statement on Sunday rejected the criticism, saying its report was based on open sources and did not contain any other information than the public journalistic activities of those mentioned in it.
“This is not a report that focuses on opposition journalists. It is legitimate for journalists to have a political stance as well as identifying it,” the statement said, dismissing the claims that the text blacklists journalists.
This is the choice of the media organisations that hired them, it added.
Gokhan Durmus, the chairman of the Turkish Union of Journalists, told Al Jazeera that the report used a language that disapproved news and social media content that was critical of the government.
“It makes journalists targets by publicly declaring their opposition to the government in a text that cherry-picked public available data to build a certain perception towards these journalists,” he said.
“The vast majority of the Turkish media is controlled by the Turkish government. News sources on Turkey have been constrained, almost wiped out, for both the Turkish and international public,” Durmus added.
“In this climate, the public widely follow these international media organisations in Turkish to get the news on their country, and I believe the report is an attempt to prevent this. It also seeks to prevent the news on Turkey from being heard by the international community.”
Press freedom standing
Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.
The Turkish Union of Journalists says 135 members of news outlets are currently jailed in Turkey – the highest in the world.
The majority of mainstream media in Turkey has business ties to the government. This share significantly increased after the mainstream Dogan Media Group, the country’s largest, was acquired last year by a group seen as being pro-government.
Turkey has been condemned by its Western allies and rights groups over the crackdown, purges and erosion of judicial independence following the failed coup bid three years ago.
They accuse the government of using the incident as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
Since the coup attempt, tens of thousands of people have been jailed pending trial and civil servants, military personnel and people in the private sector have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aim to remove the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a United States-based religious leader blamed for the 2016 coup bid, from state institutions and other parts of society. Gulen denies the claims.
Ankara says the security measures are necessary due to the gravity of the threat Turkey faces.