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Turkey is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 press freedom index

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Turkey has been ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index, up from 154th last year after it replaced Belarus, “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel,” according to the report.

“Turkey’s military operations along the border with Syria and in the Idlib region, its military intervention in Libya, its political manipulation of the Syrian refugee crisis and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic have all been used to reinforce its authoritarian policies towards critical media and its use of the judicial system for political ends,” the report said.

“Even if Turkey is no longer the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, the risk of imprisonment and the fear of being subjected to judicial control or stripped of one’s passport is ever-present,” RSF said, adding that the government controlled 90 percent of the national media by means of regulators such as the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the country’s broadcasting watchdog.

The Press Advertising Agency (BİK), which allocates state advertising, and the Presidential Communications Directorate, which issues press cards, “use clearly discriminatory practices in order to marginalize and criminalize the regime’s media critics,” the report further stated.

RSF also said Internet censorship has reached unprecedented levels and that questioning the authorities and the privileged was now almost impossible “in this ‘New Turkey’ marked by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s hyper-presidency, one in which arbitrary decisions by magistrates and government agencies are the new normal.”

The report finally noted that international social media platforms were exposed to an escalating range of sanctions that include fines, withdrawal of advertising and reduction in the bandwidth available to them if they failed to appoint a legal representative in Turkey and applied the censorship decisions taken by Turkey’s courts.

Although rising by one place in the 2021 index, Turkey has dropped precipitously since it was ranked 100th among 139 countries when RSF published its first worldwide index in 2002, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.

The recent progress of the country, which was ranked 151st, 155th, 157th, 157th and 154th in the index in the last five years, respectively, is due to the release of some imprisoned journalists in the past year and the weight given to the imposition of judicial supervision measures on members of the press rather than arresting them, local media reports said.

The Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) revealed earlier in April that 43 journalists were currently behind bars in the country.

Turkey was able to rise by one place in the 2021 index because Belarus dropped five places and was ranked 158th this year, due to the threats and violence journalists and bloggers were subjected to and the arrest of press members in large numbers over the past year.

“Journalism, which is arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation, is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent 73% of the countries evaluated,” the RSF report said.

“Journalism is … too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire highlighted.

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