In the Turkey 2010 Progress Report issued on 9 November, the European Union Commission warned Turkey on the legislations regarding freedom of expression, the prosecution and conviction of journalists and pressure on the media.
The commission concluded that Turkey progressed towards meeting the criteria of the EU accession process, especially due to the constitutional reform package. The Commission pointed out the need for further improvement of fundamental rights, particularly in implementing freedom of expression in practice.
EU's Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle stated: "Despite overall progress in 2009, we are concerned that Turkey's accession process is losing its momentum. The key to changing this is primarily with Turkey, which is expected to fully implement its current contractual relations with the EU - the Customs Union - before it can gear up to full membership of the Union ".
"If Turkey proceeds to full implementation of its Customs Union obligations with the EU, and makes progress towards normalisation of relations with Cyprus, it will be able to accelerate the pace of negotiations", the report emphazised.
Criticism on trials against journalists
The report mentioned that a total of 4091 cases have been opened under charges of "violating the secrecy of an investigation" (Turkish Criminal Law TCK Art. 285) and "attempting to influence a fair trial" (TCK Art. 288) since 2007 in the scope of the Ergenekon investigation and other trials. The report underlines that restrictions of freedom of expression are continually being restricted under Article 301 of the TCK and other provisions.
The report presented the Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat as an example: "Pressure on newspapers discussing the Kurdish question or publishing in Kurdish increased.
In the course of the year, publication of the Azadiya Welat newspaper in Diyarbakır was
banned several times and its journalists were sentenced in prison under terrorism propaganda charges".
The report furthermore stated, "Overall, open and free debate has continued and expanded. However, the high number of legal sues against journalists and undue pressure on the media undermine freedom of the press in practice".
It was said that the debate in public and in the media on sensitive topics such as the Kurdish issue, minority rights, the Armenian issue and the role of the military was increasigly open and free. "The high number of cases initiated against journalists who have reported on the Ergenekon case" was criticized on the other hand.
Moreover, the report touched upon the issue of frequent and disproportionate access bans to websites.
Freedom of the press is still an area of concern according to the report in terms of political attacks against the press, referring to the Doğan Media group as an example: "The court case on the tax fine ordered in 2009 against Dogan Media Group, critical of the government, continues. The press exercises self restraint when reporting following the initiation of this case. Court cases have been opened against journalists about their work by politicians and highlevel authorities, including military authorities".
Beware of hate speech and intolerance
The Progress Report saw further room for improvement regarding hate speech and intolerance the targeting of minorities, criticizing hate speech in the pro-Islamist and ultra-national media.
The report highlighted an improvement in cultural rights in relation with broadcasts in languages other than Turkish: the Regulation on the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was amended in November, removing all restrictions on broadcasting in Kurdish and other languages by private and public channels at local level. Fourteen radio stations and TV channels have been given permission to broadcast in Kurdish and Arabic. Restrictions have been lifted". (EÖ/VK)
Click here to view the full report.