The author noted that with scores of media outlets shut down since 2016, Turkey’s mainstream media has come fully under government control, and now things are getting tougher for the foreign press as well. Government officials had targeted foreign journalists directly or used various methods to pressure them in the past, but Ankara’s refusal to renew accreditations is making their work in Turkey altogether impossible.
The author said, "The problem, which has been going on for several months, came to the fore Feb. 28 at a high-level economic meeting between European Union and Turkish officials in Istanbul. A number of journalists, including reporters for prominent German media such as Suddeutsche Zeitung, ZDF, Tagesspiegel and ARD, were barred from the event, which led EU Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen to publicly chide the restrictions.
Katainen said he deeply “regretted” the barring of the journalists, adding that the EU was working with Turkish authorities to make sure “freedom of the press is respected.”
the author added, "the real issue here is not about the ability of accredited journalists to freely ask questions, but the arbitrariness seen in the renewal of the government-issued press cards."
According to the Foreign Media Association, renewal applications by at least 50 reporters from various countries remain unanswered since Dec. 31. Among them are Turkey veterans such as German journalist Susanne Gusten, who has never encountered such a problem before during her 22 years in the country.
Why is the government turning Turkey into a minefield for foreign reporters?
Given that European journalists in particular are being crossed off, one could interpret the accreditation denial as a form of retaliation against the EU; Turkish-EU political and diplomatic tensions have risen significantly in recent years.
German journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu, both of Turkish descent, spent a year and eight months behind bars respectively amid storms in Turkish-German relations in 2017. They were made political bargaining chips before being released and allowed to return to Germany last year.
The author confirmed that the score-settling with the EU aside, Ankara refuses to acknowledge its domestic problems, including a serious economic crisis, and instead is trying to black out the realities. Hence, any uncontrollable media is a serious problem for the government.
Onderoglu told Al-Monitor that the treatment of German journalists in particular looked like a reaction against political spats with Germany. “Yet the accreditation and press card problem is a general, covert way of expressing discontent with journalists,” he added.
Referring to the upcoming municipal elections March 31, he said, “The rejection or stalling of press card applications ahead of local elections will make things difficult for those media outlets. For a government that keeps the [Turkish] mainstream media under control, restricting the international media in a tough election season is not surprising.”
Foreign reporters have largely refrained from raising their voices thus far, hoping that silence will help them overcome problems. The fear of deportation is strong. Many journalists and writers known as Turkey experts are trying to stay away from the country, fearful of being detained or deported. Apprehension is particularly strong among those who have closely covered the Kurdish question. Some have chosen to follow Turkey and the region from Athens or Nicosia rather than Istanbul, but remain reluctant to speak out, wary of losing contacts and sources.