A state of emergency imposed in Turkey’s earthquake-hit southeast is shackling reporters, a top media rights campaigner told AFP, expressing fears they will be pressured in the run-up to May’s crunch elections.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency in the affected provinces when Turkey suffered its deadliest natural disaster of modern times last month.
The 7.8-magnitude and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes claimed more than 48,000 lives in Turkey and nearly 6,000 in Syria, flattening entire cities and displacing millions of people.
Frane Maroevic, the executive director of the International Press Institute (IPI), said reporters faced numerous hurdles in Turkey even before the quakes hit.
“In Turkey, freedom of expression over the years had gotten worse and the state of emergency just created yet another layer on the complications for journalists to do their job,” Maroevic said.
The Turkish presidency requires reporters to get special accreditation to work in the earthquake zone.
Several journalists were briefly detained for publishing articles critical of the government’s slow response to the disaster under Turkey’s much-criticized new disinformation law.
Turkey also blocked access to Twitter for more than 12 hours in the first days of the disaster due a torrent of critical posts about a lack of rescue workers and humanitarian aid.
“It is clear that authorities are preventing (journalists) from reporting independently from the ground,” Maroevic said.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 149th out of the 180 countries and territories it monitors in its annual press freedom index.
Analysts estimated that 90 percent of Turkey’s media fell under the control of the government or its business allies in the wake of a failed but bloody coup in 2016.
This has led to years self-censorship that became especially apparent during Turkish television’s coverage of the earthquake.
Some reporters for national channels interrupted live interviews when earthquake survivors began to complain about rescue delays.
Maroevic, who visited the heavily damaged city of Antakya this week, said he met Turkish reporters intent on telling the full story.
“They still want to report because they believe that it is important to tell the stories of the people who survived and still struggling to live there,” Maroevic said.
“It is clear that it is going to be more pressure on journalists as the elections approach,” he added.
Erdoğan faces the most difficult election of his two-decade rule on May 14.
Some opinion polls show him trailing his main opposition rival and in danger of losing control of parliament, where his Islamic-rooted party is allied to a far-right group.
The campaign will test a new disinformation law passed in October that makes the publication of “false or misleading information” punishable by up to three years in jail.
“It is clear that there is going to be more pressure on journalists as the elections approach,” Maroevic said.