Media associations are warning that a rise in visa rejections for Turkish citizens is affecting the ability of the country’s journalists to work.
The number of journalists whose applications for a Schengen visa have been turned down has “significantly risen,” according to the European Federation of Journalists, or EFJ. The visas permit free travel across the European Union.
In a statement this week, the EFJ said that journalists who travel frequently for work are being given short-term visas only, which means they must make repeated applications.
“This burdensome and financially unsustainable process must be addressed,” the federation said.
A Turkish citizen who holds a regular passport must apply for a visa to enter the Schengen area, which encompasses 27 EU member states.
Data from SchengenVisaInfo show the rate of Turkish citizens’ visa rejections at 15% last year. But the EFJ said the rate of visa rejections for Turkish citizens in 2023 has surged to 50 percent, affecting journalists.
“We call upon a number of diplomatic missions to rectify their prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes toward journalists from Turkey, as these biases obstruct reporters from fulfilling their professional responsibilities effectively,” EFJ Vice President Mustafa Kuleli said.
The Turkish government has repeatedly charged that the EU’s motive behind the visa rejections of Turkish citizens is political.
"We will settle the visa problem, which has been used as political blackmail recently, as soon as possible," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on May 30.
The EU authorities deny that claim. "No decisions are taken on political grounds but rather on objective grounds," Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, head of the EU delegation to Turkey, told Reuters.
Under a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey, Brussels pledged to provide 6 billion euros (about $6.7 billion) to Ankara to help it prevent refugee crossings onto EU soil and also to ease the visa application process for the Turkish citizens.
“The EU visa liberalization promised to the Turkish citizens is now almost a dream. The application requirements are getting more difficult, and the number of the requested documents are increasing daily,” said Nazmi Bilgin, president of the Ankara-based Journalists’ Association.
Bilgin told VOA that Turkish citizens are being treated as potential refugees intending to flee to Europe.
Kivanc El, the head of the Progressive Journalists Association, said the foreign officials from EU nations act as if Turkish journalists will seek asylum there.
“If our colleagues consider seeking asylum, they would do it properly. But, in their visa applications, their destination, where they will be, what meetings they will attend are known,” El told VOA.
On June 15, T24 editor-in-chief Dogan Akin wrote a column detailing that, when the news website’s foreign editor applied for a Schengen visa from the German consulate four years ago, T24 was asked to provide its bank statements.
"We decided not to move forward with the visa application at that point,” Akin wrote.
Last August, Reuters reported that Turkish sports presenter Sinem Okten’s Schengen visa application was rejected twice. "I applied first to Germany, then to France. Both rejected my application," Okten told Reuters.
"I've traveled abroad numerous times to follow and film matches and interview people, maybe 50 to 60 times. This is the first time I am having this problem," she said.
Bilgin said that visa rejections affect journalistic work.
“In the past, our colleagues could easily get visas only by stating the institution they work for and explaining where and when they will travel. Even if they fulfill the aggravated application requirements, they cannot get a visa these days,” Bilgin said.
The Schengen visa application with additional service fees can cost about 100 euros, more than a quarter of the current monthly minimum wage in Turkey.
Worries about financial security
According to Reuters Institute’s 2022 Digital News report, the media sector in Turkey faces financial problems “with devaluation fueling a 20-year high in inflation.”
“Independent journalists who already work under difficult political conditions are also increasingly worried for their financial security,” the report states.
Journalists with press cards issued by the Turkish presidency’s Directorate of Communications are eligible to obtain service passports that enable them to travel visa-free to the Schengen area for their work.
“Unfortunately, the Directorate of Communications does not issue press cards to many journalists,” El told VOA.
Fahrettin Altun, the director of communications in the Turkish presidency, said on social media, "So long as we are on duty, we will keep combating those who carry out ‘terrorism propaganda’ in the guise of 'journalism.' Terror sympathizers should not rejoice in vain."
Local journalism organizations say the Directorate of Communications hands the press cards only to pro-government media outlets, discriminating against independent or dissident journalists.
This report originated in VOA's Turkish Service.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the association of which Nazmi Bilgin is president; and on what platform Fahrettin Altun, the director of communications for the Turkish presidency, made his statement.