Media and the executive conundrum post elections
The Turkish constitution and political tradition underlines presidential unaccountability for administrative actions he might take alone or together with the government. Except for treason, the president cannot be brought in front of justice as he enjoys unrestricted judicial immunity for all his actions as the top public official representing the integrity of the state and the nation and is tasked by the constitution with safeguarding the smooth functioning of the state apparatus.
Does presidential immunity include probable corruption or graft? Does it include incitement to violence or discrimination, alienating someone or making a person or a group of people a target? If a president intentionally and publicly violates the impartiality and oath of impartiality he delivered in taking over the duty and starts acting like a political party super leader, can he still enjoy full judicial immunity?
With the exception of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power with a sufficient 3/5 or parliamentary majority – both of which appears very difficult if not impossible – this issue would be one of the issues to be debated after the June 7 parliamentary elections. Should Turkey have an “à la carte super president” even though the constitution and the presidential tradition of the country provides room only for a head of state above party politics and indeed distant from political polemics? If even the coup leader and the subsequent head of state, the late Kenan Evren, could not become a super president, while both the late Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel – two very politically strong presidents – preferred to stay within the limits of the constitution even though at times they were outraged by some administrative undertakings, can it be legitimate for a president to insist on staying as the “absolute boss” of the entire system of governance of the country, sparing no one from the smallest local administrator to the prime minister?
Journalists are people assigned to gather and write news and thus provide people with the data to get informed on the country’s affairs, international developments or simply the happenings of the day. To be informed is a constitutional right as much as press freedom or the right of expression is. If a government veils a very important development, clamps down a media ban on it and refutes all claims that the country was providing arms to some militants in Syria as “baseless” and “unsubstantiated,” does that mean the issue has become taboo and the media should not write about it? On the contrary, if a government hides from public eye a very important development and if a journalist somehow obtains hard evidence showing the government in deep dirt, reporting such a story is a journalistic success that must be celebrated rather than publicly threatening to “punish severely” that journalist and that newspaper.
Or, if a newspaper uses a quotation – irrespective of how inappropriate it might be – from a speech of the president, can it be sane for the same president to use that headline in alienating and attacking that newspaper and vowing “they will pay for it?”
Definitely, the state should not have any say in describing who is a journalist and who is not. It ought to be none of the business of the state. Yet, in Turkey, a “press card commission” mostly composed of journalists, issues press cards or permanent press cards. If a journalist has completed 20 years of uninterrupted service, s/he is entitled to obtain a permanent card. Over six months ago the commission approved a list of 95 journalists to be given permanent cards, among them many eminent journalists, including Murat Yetkin, the editor-in-chief of the HDN. Alas, just because the list also included some names such as Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of daily Zaman, considered “unwelcome” by the government, those 95 journalists have been unable to get their permanent cards as the director general of the Press and Publications Department of the Prime Ministry is scared of signing the cards. Why? The president and his men have targeted Dumanlı and many other people as “enemies.”
Can there be an executive mentality discriminating against a section of society and calling that “enhanced democracy” or a “new country?”
Whatever might be the result of the elections, the post-poll era will be rather interesting as regards the new power arrangement, particularly if the country has a coalition that includes some arch foes of the president in office.