Journalist at all costs: Journalism in Turkey through a Romanian lens – Estera Costinescu / Bianet English

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When it comes to freedom of expression, it isn’t only about how much you are allowed to say because we also need to take into consideration the political context, the time and the culture of the place where you want to express yourself.

October 15, 2023, Estera Costinescu, Bianet English.

From the point of view of an Erasmus student who has  been enjoying Istanbul for more than a year, things can seem much brighter than they really are. Many of my conversations with my Turkish friends had the following questions as the main topic: “Why did you choose Turkey?”, “Why do you say Istanbul is so amazing?”, “Why would you want to start your life here?” and the reason is because in their eyes Turkey isn’t that “great”. All of those questions and perplexities ​​stem from one basic thing: the difference of perspectives – because from one point of view things can seem amazing and wonderful, and from the other they can seem flawed which is why you need to take both of them into consideration if you want to get closer to the real and truthful perspective.

Being a Communication student and entering the journalistic field, I noticed some of the similar and not so similar things from Romania and Turkey regarding the freedom of speech, so let’s talk a bit about the challenges journalists have to face when they are put in a context where freedom of speech has been restricted (as it is in Turkey), or even in a context where freedom of speech is recovering after a communist era (as it is in Romania).

Turkey is one of the countries where freedom of speech is not so free because many publications and news channels are pro-government and they seem to be in charge of  the amount of information that is being made public. The bia Media Monitoring Reports prepared by Erol Önderoğlu shows how this issue is being handled in the everyday life of a journalist and especially in courts: journalists imprisoned, thousands of judiciar cases against journalists and media channels, internet regulations, pro government news  outlets – this is what media freedom is like in a reportedly democratic country. Turkey is one of the countries where freedom of speech has a limit that might not be the same as in other countries and this puts many journalists in a challenging spot where they have to choose between freedom and truth.

On the other hand, Romania has a history of communism and after the downfall of the regime, the mindset and the way of living still has powerful effects on media expression. One of the main issues for journalists in Romania is connected to the political corruption of the ones in charge of the country, because even if right now, there is a democratic regime, the country is still ruled by people who grew up in the environment of the communist rule  A study from the University of Oxford shows Romania’s journalistic field and based on the findings, we can conclude that the media in Romania is characterized and mainly influenced by propaganda, corruption and lack of integrity. All of those things cause the public to lose their trust in the media (the percentage of trust has dropped from 39% to 33% in the last 5 years) and it makes them consider it as an uproar in chaos instead of a reliable source of truth.

And yes, freedom of speech is clearly regulated in the constitution and in the laws, but corruption hides behind them, making it hard for journalists to be fair and honest. Therefore it can be a challenge for the media representatives who want to freely express what the public needs to hear when there is the political pressure that constrains them to release “their truth” and not “the truth”.

 When it comes to freedom of expression, it isn’t only about how much you are allowed to say because we also need to take into consideration the political context, the time and the culture of the place where you want to express yourself. That’s why things may seem so different from one country to another because what’s offensive in one can be considered normal in the other, also what’s legal in one can be illegal in another. 

Taking a general view of this issue we can say that in both countries journalists have several challenges when doing their job and those are related to external factors such as the political regime, the influence and power the leaders of the country have, the level of truth that can be made public, the limit of information you can disclose about some sensitive issues, and even regarding the way the public reacts when they are put in contact with that information.

Overall, it is difficult and challenging to be a journalist in each of the contexts presented, but at the same time it’s not impossible, because instead of focusing on the things we can’t do and say, we should start focusing on what we can and make the best of it. 

As an Erasmus student, I tried to take advantage of many opportunities that could arise in such a new environment and being an intern at IPS Communication Foundation/bianet has helped me get a broad perspective about how the journalistic field works in a different country compared to the one I have been accustomed to until now. Seeing how the foundation concentrates on minorities and disadvantaged sections of the public introduced me to a much deeper level of the journalistic field, it helped me see the unseen and hear the unheard, and this is exactly what the first step of a journalist should be, and the next step is to make them feel seen and heard – and this is what IPS/bianet is doing.

One thing I learned from observing a totally different culture and in a new context is that people can communicate in so many more different ways than using words, so even if you can’t speak, you can still express yourself and make others understand you . And this can be a lesson for journalists too – if they won’t let you speak, find a different way of telling the world what you want them to know or what they need to hear.

The eyes of the journalists are sharp and pay attention to everything, but in some contexts their mouths and hands are tied so they need to find new ways of expressing what needs to be said, even if sometimes it puts their job and even liberty at risk. In an environment where speech is limited we need to find ways of expressing the truth despite the challenges and consequences.  So how many of us are willing to take this risk? (EC/VK)

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