On 21 February 2016, in the German newspaper Faz, an article by Rainer Hermann was published in which the author criticized the alleged lack of press freedom in Turkey, claiming that it had reached the most oppressive extent in its history, while adding that it was freer during the era military coups in the country. He wrote:
And even in the repressive years after the military coup of 1980, the media was freer than today. Never were more journalists in prison than today and never were this many censors on publications enforced by the Turkish government.
However, according to an investigation report published by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, after the 1980 coup, 400 journalists faced charges carrying a total of 4,000 years in prison and a total of 3,315 years of jail terms were handed out to them. 31 journalists were jailed. Journalists were also sentenced to pay 1,285 million dollars of compensation. For 300 days following the military coup, no newspapers were published. 303 lawsuits were brought against 13 major newspapers. 39 tons of newspapers and journals were destroyed. After the coup d’etat, 300 journalists were attacked and three journalists were shot dead. Furthermore, politics was banned following the coup d’etat. Censorship, prohibitions and restrictions were applied to make the media apolitical.
The coup was headed by Chief of the General Staff General Kenan Evren. For the next three years the junta ruled the country through the National Security Council and a state of siege was declared. Officers of state sent notices to media outlets about forbidden topics. Discussing of the decisions and bans of the state were also forbidden.
Journalist Can Dundar wrote about that era:
“Everyday the telex in our office was working and Forbidden News Lists were received. The list was like this:
Points to consider in the news:
- No news about anarchy can be made.
- No events or attitudes against the course of actions of the National Security Council can be reported as news
- Notices of the state of siege must be published two times.”
Another notice, which was sent to newspapers on 25 February 1982, banned caricatures criticizing the government and using of the verbs ‘hinders’, ‘gets tired’, ‘will change’ about the government. Furthermore, even colors were banned before the referendum for the new constitution was offered by the junta in 7 November 1982. While white voting paper meant approval and blue meant denial, an embargo was applied on the color blue in the media before the referendum.
If the newspapers did not follow the restrictions, they were faced with the risk of being closed. Speaking in a documentary made in 1998, Kenan Evren, the general who is leading the military coup, himself admits this:
If they [journalists] act contrary to the orders of state of siege they were being closed. Even some of them were prosecuted. Some were sentenced. If the state didn’t do this, it could not establish the authority. Cumhuriyet, Hurriyet, Millliyet, Tercuman [newspapers] were closed.
On the other hand, in today’s Turkey, according to a report published on 1 December 2015 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organization promoting press freedom and defending the rights of journalists, 14 journalists were under arrest. Given that Can Dundar and Erdem Gul were released on 26 February 2016, only 12 journalists are currently under arrest. Furthermore, the Directorate General of Press and Information of Turkey announced on 29 January 2016 that “No journalists have been arrested or convicted due to journalistic activities.” The statement said that among those on the list of journalists who were arrested, some of them were jailed for minor offenses and others on terrorism-related charges, not for their journalism.