Press freedom is vital for democracy
Press freedom has always been an issue between both those who run countries and those who live under their rule.
Rulers are often uneasy with media coverage, whether that coverage be about wrong political decisions, about countries being dragged into war and destruction, or about corruption dragging economies into crises and causing social disintegration.
There have been many leaders who have complained about the use of this freedom, acknowledging that it may create problems for them but also acknowledging its indispensable importance for a healthy government and society.
In 1925, the president of the young Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said “the way to cope with problems sourcing from press freedom is more press freedom itself.”
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson, the first U.S. secretary of state and then president, said the following: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Today, we live in a world where press freedom is little appreciated by most leaders. Many do not welcome diversity of views if it prompts uncomfortable question marks in the minds of the people.
This is true both among some leaders who were elected through the votes of their people and among those who were not. It is currently true for presidents in China, where there is no multi-party democracy, and in the U.S., one of the world’s biggest and most advanced democracies. U.S. President Donald Trump was the first to applaud Chinese President Xi Jingpin’s move to lift the limit on the number of terms a president can be reelected, effectively opening the way to lifelong time in office. It is no surprise that, unlike Jefferson, Trump is constantly hitting the press hard, denouncing it for spreading “fake news.”
In Turkey, the media is certainly not enjoying a golden age. It is not right to link the persecution and jailing of journalists exclusively to the ongoing state of emergency declared after the July 2016 coup attempt; it has always been a problem. Especially from the point of view of the people’s right to know, the lack of diverse views and the lack of diverse news approaches to events are gradually causing the media to become ever more monolithic. The lack of press freedom therefore inevitably becomes a problem of democracy.
Hürriyet, which means “freedom” in Turkish, has for decades been the most influential mainstream newspaper in Turkey. This May it will mark its 70th anniversary. Since it was bought in 1994, Hürriyet has been considered the flagship of the Doğan Media Group, which also owns the Hürriyet Daily News and dozens of outlets including TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, websites and magazines. It has also been considered a flagship paper of record for the rest of the Turkish media.
In the early hours of March 22, it was officially announced that talks between the Doğan Group and the Demirören Group (which already owns the Milliyet and Vatan newspapers) are progressing about the purchase of the Doğan Media Group as a whole.
So far, Hürriyet journalists have always tried as much as possible to fulfill people’s right of people to know. The hope is that both Hürriyet and the Turkish media as a whole will enjoy greater freedom and diversity in the future.