Sevgi Akarcesme, a dismissed political journalist and former editor-in-chief of the largest English newspaper in Turkey, Today’s Zaman, prior to its violent government takeover in March of 2016, has been invited to speak at Cabrini University for the Death of Media Freedom in Turkey seminar. The event will take place on Wednesday, Feb.12, at 3:15 p.m. in the Iadarola Lecture Hall.
The event was organized by Vonya Womack, the director of the Center for Global Learning, who also teaches an Engagements to the Common Good (ECG) Human Rights class about this matter. Womack is brining Akarcesme to campus in order to discuss the demise of the freedom of the press in Turkey as well as spread awareness of the ongoing oppression and crisis of human rights violations plaguing its people, especially journalists, teachers and judges.
According to Womack, “Today’s Zaman”, which has since been discontinued after it was commandeered by the government, was affiliated with the Gulen Movement, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not supportive of. The media had already been under pressure since 2013 but issues have only escalated within the past few years to present day with the government having a type of monopoly over the media and other powerful institutions.
As a result, these organizations have been taken over and forcibly shut down over the last few years, in which Akarcesme has a first-hand account of and will be sharing her story.
While in exile, Akarcesme ran the Turkish Minute from Brussels, Belgium, as editor-in-chief. She has also contributed to other media organizations such as the New York Times, Politico and appeared on BBC and CNN as a commentator during this time. In the present day, Akarcesme keeps up her reporting in the United States and offers lectures and presentations as an advocate for freedom of the press and media.
How this is related to media in the United States
Although this may seem like an international affair, this issue is closer to home than most people realize. Womack explained that earlier this year the Trump administration announced plans for government agencies to cancel their subscriptions for papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, both being significant news organizations.
Another incident Womack heard about involved CNN reporter Jim Acosta. According to an article by the Washington Post, Trump asked for Acosta’s press credentials to be revoked back in November of 2018 after an argument over questions being asked during a conference.
“There were a number of situations where Trump directly heckled journalists,” Womack said.
This is a direct connection to the oppression in Turkey as these actions are parallel to how the assault of media began in Turkey.
“In Turkey, the attack on media started exactly the same way,” she added.
She explained that it starts with “microaggressions” where the leader of a country or the government will attack the media one by one by using tactics such as revoking credentials and unsubscribing from specific papers in which they believe to be “independent or against the government” which is what happened with Akarcesme’s paper.
Turkey can be used as a case example of a “cautionary tale” for other democracies going through a “heightened sense of polarization” with media organizations being the most affected.
“As people who are trying to become engaged citizens of the world and engaged citizens of our nation, we have to look at Turkey as a negative model as to what happens to media freedom if we are not cognizant today,” Womack said.
Coming to Cabrini
Her speech will be a highlight for Cabrini University and will be open to all students, faculty and staff members.
“It is a privilege for a small-size liberal arts college like Cabrini to have someone like Sevgi Akarcesme come to and share her story,” Womack said.
It provides students the chance to “learn more globally” and “engage as citizens of the world” which falls in line with the Cabrini mission.