Eastern Mediterranean journalism under siege
By Nikolaos Stelgias
As the Middle East grapples with a new crisis, the journalism landscape in the Eastern Mediterranean faces unprecedented challenges. From Turkey to Syria, Israel, and Palestine, journalists are encountering difficulties, dangers, and limitations in their pursuit of truth and freedom of expression. This article sheds light on the region's alarming state of press freedom, highlighting specific incidents that showcase the challenging conditions journalists face.
In recent days, Turkey has witnessed a wave of detention and intimidation targeting journalists. Prominent journalist Tolga Sardan, known for his investigations into organized crime, was arrested for his article on corruption within the justice system. Shortly after, reporter Dincer Gokce was detained for reporting on the release of alleged gang leaders. Similar accusations led to the detention of columnist Cengiz Erdinc, and Evrim Kepenek was summoned for her social media posts after an earthquake. Furthermore, criminal investigations were launched against three journalists from Birgun newspaper for exposing a shady land sale. These incidents reflect a growing trend of suppressing critical voices, with journalists facing charges of spreading misleading information and inciting hatred.
In Syria, the Syrian Journalists Association's latest report reveals a staggering number of violations against journalists and media professionals. Since the beginning of the year, 21 violations, including arrests, detentions, killings, and enforced disappearances, have been recorded. Various parties have committed these violations; the Syrian regime is held responsible for the highest number of transgressions, followed by the Democratic Union Party, Syrian Democratic Forces, Syrian opposition, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, and Turkey. The dangerous environment for journalists in Syria has persisted since 2011, with a total of 1,497 documented violations.
In Israel, amidst the recent Hamas terrorist attack, Israeli media has adopted nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, overlooking the Palestinian perspective. Israeli TV channels have provided one-dimensional coverage, neglecting the "other" and focusing solely on Israeli viewpoints. Similarly, Arab networks in the region have displayed hostile reflexes, failing to provide dispassionate analysis. While Palestinian suffering is highlighted, Israeli perspectives and the impact on Israeli families are ignored. This biased coverage further limits objective reporting and analysis. In the shadow of nationalism and xenophobia, journalists are trapped within the confines of "political correctness." This development undermines the basic principles of objectivity and investigative journalism.
Palestinian journalists face an additional tragic element in their work - the threat of violence and death. The Israel-Gaza war has taken a heavy toll on journalists, with Hamas launching an unprecedented attack on Israel, triggering a violent response. Numerous journalists and media workers have been killed, injured, or gone missing as the conflict spreads to neighboring Lebanon. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is actively investigating these incidents, with at least 36 journalists and media workers among the estimated 10,000 casualties since the war's outbreak.
The journalism in the Eastern Mediterranean is under attack from multiple directions. Imprisonment, violence, censorship, wars, nationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism all pose severe threats to press freedom. Faced with the problem of inadequate salaries, the region’s journalists face new challenges. It is disheartening to note that the plight of journalists in the region often goes unnoticed, with societies showing little interest in their struggles. As we near the end of 2023, urgent action is needed to safeguard press freedom and protect journalists' vital role in upholding democracy and human rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.