Turkish journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül receive the 2016 Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media
Leipzig, 7 October 2016. The Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation honored Turkish journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül with the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media on the evening of 7 October 2016. Every year, the award honors journalists, media representatives and institutions who dedicate themselves with courage and exceptional commitment to protecting the freedom of the press; it is bestowed together with a total of 30,000 euros. Can Dündar received the award in person, although Erdem Gül had been denied permission to leave Turkey after his passport was withdrawn.
"In June this year, when we, the jury of the Prize, chose today's laureates, we already knew about the difficult situation facing these two journalists and how precarious the situation of press freedom in Turkey already was," explained Dr. Harald Langenfeld, chairman of Sparkasse Leipzig and of the Media Foundation at the award ceremony.But it had been impossible to predict "which dramatic direction the issue would take during the coming weeks." The attempted military coup of 15 July 2016 was wrong and needs to be investigated by the Turkish authorities, he added. But what we see is different, he said: "The government massively restricted democratic freedoms, taking the intended coup and its real or even alleged instigators as an excuse," continued Langenfeld. He added that the laureates Can Dündar and Erdem Gül had experienced this first-hand. The award is therefore "an expression of our solidarity with them, their families and all other journalists who suffer from state reprisals in Turkey and elsewhere."
The laureates also remind Western democracies of a "basic truth", commented Burkhard Jung, Lord Mayor of Leipzig and chairman of the Foundation Council of the Media Foundation. "Free speech is not some cultural asset which has infiltrated from the West. It is a global, fundamental right of free people, regardless of culture, religion or income. But this right can't be taken for granted." Speaking about Can Dündar, he said: "We see you as a modern dissident, one who alarms us too. Even if it is only because you weigh the EU and Turkey's agreement on refugees against the country's human rights record and don't come to a positive conclusion."
Laureate Can Dündar, who was able to receive the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media in person, also expressed gratitude on behalf of his colleague Erdem Gül for showing solidarity with persecuted journalists: "The big family of people who stand on the side of freedom, holds out its hands to them and gives them the feeling, even in prison, that they are not alone." He said that he accepted the award on behalf of those colleagues "who are now behind bars or risking arrest, because they put up resistance against the repression." Every government harbors its secrets, he added: "It is our task to reveal them and to defend the population’s right to know the truth."
Solidarity address of the Media Award laureates
A solidarity address of former Media Award laureates was published during the award ceremony in Leipzig, condemning the current persecution of Turkish journalists, columnists and writers Ahmet Altan, Nedim Şener, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, all of whom are of course laureates of the Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media, in the strongest possible terms: "Their cases as well as the cases of numerous other Turkish journalists show that the Turkish government has been systematically suppressing the pluralistic formation of opinion for years by suspecting critical journalists of being terrorists or using poor excuses to take or order legal action against them, and by restricting the activity of non-government-controlled media by means of prohibitions and repression," the solidarity address states. The signatories, including the top American researcher Seymour Hersh, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, Mexican journalist Ana Lilia Perez, Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, German journalists Jörg Armbruster, Bettina Rühl, Wolfram Weimer and many others, call upon the Turkish government to immediately provide evidence of the alleged participation of media critical of the government in the intended coup of 16 July 2016: "We call upon Turkey to return to democratic and constitutional principles for all journalists and media representatives. We call for an end to the politically motivated legal actions against journalists, publishers, editors and media outlets."
Stephan Seeger, Managing Director of the Media Foundation and Director of the Sparkasse Leipzig Foundations, said: "We kindly ask the media to publish this solidarity address and to spread it as widely as possible." He explained: "Some of the signatories work and have been working under difficult, in too many cases life-threatening, circumstances – and they know how important and necessary honest solidarity between colleagues is. That it can be a means of protection for every one of them, when the world takes part in his or her fate. And that it can be a means of support to every one of them when he or she realizes that he or she is not alone."
Act of solidarity of the participants of the 2nd European Media Freedom Conference
An act of solidarity with the journalists imprisoned in Turkey was also initiated by the Leipzig-based European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) together with the participants of the second European Media Freedom Conference that took place on 6 and 7 October in Leipzig. Together with the Media Prize laureate Can Dündar and other Turkish journalists living in exile, the more than 100 international participants of the conference released balloons into the free air of the skies over Leipzig, one for each Turkish journalist currently in prison.
Leipzig Speech on Media and Press Freedom by Dr. Heiner Koch, archbishop of Berlin
Dr. Heiner Koch, archbishop of Berlin, also paid tribute to the awarded journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül: "When media representatives have to accept the risk that their commitment to freedom and democracy means nothing less than risking their own freedom, their own democratic fundamental rights, then free people bear the costs of the responsibility that they have assumed. Both our laureates Can Dündar and Erdem Gül personify this attitude in an exemplary manner," said Koch in this year's "Leipzig Speech on Media and Press Freedom" during the award ceremony, in which he shed light on the tension between freedom and responsibility: "[Freedom] can not only be used, it can also be abused. You can over-strain it and it can miss its own purpose." He added that in Germany and the rest of the world, we are see growing and ever stronger social tensions of serious magnitudes: "This means our expectations of a responsible free press have become even higher. Of a press that makes use of freedom, shows solidarity and maintains subsidiarity," Koch explained.
About the laureates
Erdem Gül was born in the Turkish city of Giresun in 1967. In 1992 he began his professional career at the Turkish news agency Anka. In 2010 he became Cumhuriyet's parliamentary correspondent, and since 2013 he was head of the newspaper's Ankara office. In the Cumhuriyet trial concerning the reporting of a secret Turkish military transport operation to Syria, Erdem Gül was the main defendant. He and Can Dündar were arrested in November 2015. However, the Constitutional Court of Turkey declared the provisional custody as unlawful in February 2016. The trial began on 25 March 2016, with the accusation of knowingly and intentionally aiding an armed terror organization and espionage of state secrets.
Can Dündar has been living outside Turkey since July 2016. In August he resigned from his office as editor-in-chief at Cumhuriyet. Like Erdem Gül, his wife is not allowed to leave Turkey. In September 2016 a second action was brought against both journalists. Now Can Dündar and Erdem Gül have been charged with deliberately and knowingly aiding an armed terror organization.
About the award
Each year since 2001, the Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation has awarded the "Prize for the Freedom and the Future of the Media" in order to honor journalists, publishers, and institutions that have demonstrated great personal commitment to ensuring the freedom and the future of the media. The award is also intended to commemorate the Peaceful Revolution in Leipzig on 9 October 1989, during which protesters demanded "free press for a free country".