Press freedom for all
Hürriyet Daily News editor-in-chief Murat Yetkin wrote an excellent article last week stressing the importance of press freedom for everyone. That has been a subject I have been trying to underline – despite all the challenges it entailed when I was in editorial positions - throughout the past 40 years I have been in this profession.
It is difficult for a newspaper editor to write such a courageous article. That was why I sent a message to my friend Murat, congratulating him for saying such brave things at such a difficult time, with talks underway for the sale of the entire Hürriyet group - including the Hürriyet Daily News - to a group believed to be very close to the government. Of course, this is not the first time a newspaper or media group has changed hands. There will hopefully be many other entrepreneurs who will invest in the media sector; not only will existing media outlets change hands but new media outlets will be launched as well.
It is no secret that the Turkish media has gone through some very difficult times over the past 15 years. Difficulties have increased in the post-2007 period, culminating in an abnormal climax with the July 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent declaration of emergency rule. How many hundreds of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations have been closed down? How many hundreds of journalists have been left unemployed because their media outlets were closed down or declared illegal? How many have fled the country or been locked up behind bars? As this article was being written, the fact that 135 journalists are in Turkish prisons testifies to the existence of a serious press freedom problem in this country.
Regardless of debates about the quality of those journalists in jail, or the fact that many of those closed-down media outlets were linked to the Fethullah Gülen group. It is a fact that emergency rule has given the president and the government opportunity to rule the country without even feeling the need to consult parliament. For efficiency in governance in these difficult times, such extraordinary tools may be of precious value. But the impact of such tools on rights, liberties, freedoms and media freedom is obvious.
I have recently been on a one-week tour of Denmark and Finland, with a glimpse of beautiful Malmö, Sweden, as part of a media delegation from Turkey. The delegation included Association of Journalists Chairperson Nazmi Bilgin and the chairs of the Economic Correspondents Association and the Parliamentary Correspondents Association. The fifth member of the team was Duygu Güvenç, the diplomatic correspondent from daily Cumhuriyet, who is a member of the Association of Journalists and the Diplomatic Correspondents Association. The trip came immediately after news of the start of talks on the Doğan Media Group’s sale, so one natural focus of the discussions was: “Turkish media, quo vadis?”
It was difficult to answer such a question without feeling pain in the chest. Turkey should not be a country where the situation of the media is so terrible. Celebrities, breast-fed so-called intellectuals, and abundant pen slingers may claim that Turkey has never had it so good in terms of press freedom, but the fact is that the country has fallen down in all international freedom indexes. It now ranks alongside some horrible, rough states.
Press freedom, and freedom of expression are needed by everyone. A nation can only develop its “informed choice” capability if there is freedom of expression and freedom of the media, letting people become acquainted with the pros and cons of an issue. This is a basic requirement of democratic governance. Bombardment of the people with propaganda-like news coming from only one source cannot be conducive to democratic governance.