Media rights group slams Ankara for denying foreign journalists press cards

Turkish authorities have deliberately delayed granting accreditation to foreign journalists in order to restrict foreign reporting, international media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said.

The statement came after several foreign journalists, including reporters from four German outlets, were barred from entering a press conference held in Istanbul on Thursday to mark a large European Union investment in Turkish rail projects.

German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle quoted Turkish government officials as saying the accreditation had been delayed due to the country’s transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system after elections last June.

“Those who have had theirs renewed are here and can ask questions freely. Some haven’t had theirs renewed. But maybe they will next year, or maybe not,” Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak said at the press conference.

Christian Mihr of Reporters Without Borders in Germany rejected the explanation, saying a “bureaucratic glitch” was not sufficient to explain such a delay just weeks before local elections, which are due on March 31.

The delay was a "brazen attempt" by Ankara to "restrict independent foreign reporting,” Deutsche Welle quoted Mihr as saying.

"The Turkish authorities must immediately ensure that foreign correspondents in Turkey can work freely," Mihr said.

Turkey’s record on press freedoms has been a prolonged area of concern for RSF, which placed the country 157th out of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index in 2018.

The media rights watchdog called Turkey the “world’s biggest jailer of journalists” in the 2018 report, noting that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had shut down dozens of media outlets in a “witch hunt” during the two-year state of emergency following the coup attempt in July 2016.