Yasemin Çongar never regrets her decision to fight for press freedom

yasemin speech

This afternoon, the annual Press Freedom Speech was held by Yasemin Çongar. Çongar, the deputy editor-in-chief of independent Turkish newspaper Taraf spoke of positive changes in her country. In an interview, Çongar explains how Taraf contributes to this.

‘The only way to go would be to abolish Article 301,’ Çongar says. ‘It is truly a disgrace that this law still exists.’ Penal Law Article 301, making any insult of Turkey or the Turkish state illegal, is seen as the biggest obstacle for press freedom in Turkey. Çongar however, explains that in the recent past this article has been slightly changed. Now, if the state wishes to try someone on Article 301, it should first obtain written permission of the Minister of Justice. ‘This means that this important and dangerous decision is up to the random judgment of one person.’ This doesn’t seem like a very transparent way to deal with press freedom.

A top-down decision to abolish this law seems unlikely in the near future. Bottom-up expressions of the public, however, might be able to exert influence. Taraf plays a big part in this. ‘Readers’ responses to Taraf are very strong.’ Yasemin states. ‘Taraf is a small newspaper, but has big impact in public opinion and political discussion.’ Çongar explains how the newspaper is meant for anyone and everyone: it is read by liberal students in Istanbul, as well as middle-aged conservatives in Central Anatolia or Kurdish readers. ‘It has many enemies as well, but if it would cease to exist – it will be greatly missed,’ Çongar claims.

Even though advertisers are not very interested in Taraf, Çongar praises her ‘stubborn’ publisher and her ‘stubborn’ staff for keeping the newspaper alive. ‘We have very little means, but strife for a goal.’ Congar states. She praises Taraf’s journalists, mostly young beginning writers, for persisting; ‘even when they’d lost a lot of money or were not paid for months.’ According to Çongar, this is part of the job as a journalist in Turkey. ‘Working in these situations is nothing to envy, but I never regret my decision. I have made a choice, to be a journalist, to be part of Taraf. This newspaper is making an impact and changing the country,’ she says.

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