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SETA report targeting journalists is free speech, prosecutors say

A Turkish prosecutor says pro-government think-tank SETA’s report suggesting foreign media outlets and the journalists they employ purposefully work against Turkey, falls under the right to freedom of expression

The Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office has found no reason to investigate a controversial report compiled by a pro-government think-tank, examining foreign news networks and listing personal details on their employees, according to a response the prosecutor’s office sent to the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which had filed a petition demanding an inquiry into the report. 

The report, which was released by the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA) on 5 July, was found unnerving by critics as it claims that Turkish services of foreign media outlets purposefully reported against Turkish interests on a number of topics such as the coup attempt of 2016 or the Kurdish question. The report’s listing and naming individuals working at the outlets covered by the report was seen as “blacklisting” and “targeting” by journalism associations. SETA’s report also encourages the public to contact authorities whenever they encounter “content directly targeting Turkey”.

Earlier in July, the MLSA, a media freedoms association, filed a petition to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office, demanding that the authors of the report be punished for “inciting the public to hatred and hostility,” “open incitement to commit a crime,” “unlawfully recording personal data,” and violating the “right to peace of mind,” all crimes under the Turkish Criminal Code. 

“No grounds to investigate report”

In its response to the petition, the  Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office’’s Press Crimes Bureau said it found no grounds that the offenses listed in the petition had occurred, highlighting that the suspects’ actions fell under “the right to spread one’s opinions.”

Speaking about the decision, Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director Veysel Ok that, “It is ironic that this was seen as a freedom of expression right, given that the same prosecutors routinely prosecute journalists doing their jobs, accusing of them baseless terror-related offenses. It clearly shows that the prosecutor’s office believes that the right to freedom of expression can only be exercised by media outlets and organizations affiliated by the government. We will file an objection and we will take this case to all available local and international legal mechanisms.”

The prosecutor’s office also noted that the report lacked expressions that incited people to resort to violence against the journalists listed in it. It argued that as the information about the individual journalists named in the report was collected from online resources, it also didn’t violate the ban on recording personal data. It also said the report also didn’t amount to an action that sought to disturb the peace of the mind the individuals it mentioned.

About the report

The report was criticized for criminalizing journalistic activity. Its accusatory tone was likened to an “indictment” by some critics. Discussing editorial policies of outlets such as BBC Turkish , Deutsche Welle Turkish, Voice of America (VOA) Turkish, Sputnik, EuroNews Turkey, China Radio International (CRI) Turkey, and the Turkish version of the Independent, the report suggests that these outlets purposefully publish news and information critical of Turkey, and includes the names and personal details of journalists they employ.