For Free Speech Week this week, I originally was going to write about the increasingly hostile political climate in the United States for reporters and all supporters of free speech. But I thought it might be more instructive to take a moment to talk about a historic U.S. ally who is reaching new lows in terms of its treatment of journalists. In fact, if we aren’t exceedingly careful and vigilant, Turkey will serve as an example to us of what can happen to a society when politicians actually do go to try to destroy a free press.
On October 10, The Wall Street Journal staff reporter Ayla Albayrak was wrongly convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey. The court sentenced her to two years and one month in prison in connection with a Wall Street Journal article published in 2015.
The idea that in 2017, honest, straightforward reporting is considered terrorist propaganda is disheartening and mind-boggling. We stand with Ayla and the Journal as they begin the appeals process.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it condemned the Turkish court decision.
Nina Ognianova, the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, calling Turkey the world’s top jailer of journalists, said, “The conviction of Ayla in Turkey is a very worrying sign and an escalation of the crackdown on the press.” We call on the Turkish authorities to overturn this decision immediately.” Turkey has continually targeted journalists since the failed coup last year.
German correspondent Deniz Yücel also faces up to a decade in a Turkish prison on propaganda charges. The pattern is real and completely apparent.
This government action is unacceptable. At the Alliance, we do not tolerate the suffocation of a free press. We will not take press freedoms for granted and will continue to advocate for our members.
In America, journalists serve as public watchdogs, holding government, corporate, union and other powerful officials accountable for their actions. They are the eyes and ears of our democracy – which we need now more than ever – and we will do everything to protect their rights.
David Chavern is former President & CEO of the News/Media Alliance. Chavern has 30 years of experience in executive strategic and operational roles. Prior to the Alliance, he completed a decade-long tenure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.