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MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

mab@hurriyet.com.tr

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND > We are neither democratic nor do we believe in freedom of expression

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Journalists, too, are criticized. We are not immune to criticism. There are also some in our media who have accumulated too much evil on their plates. For some, “criticism” only means swearing, insulting and slandering.

Now, we have started a quarrel within the media. I am talking about the debate that stated right after the prime minster’s “hired pens” speech.

This debate is extremely important and is the essential question of the “freedom of the press.” The question is whether journalists can criticize official policies during a state of war or in tense situations? Or should they, in the name of national unity, simply support official policies?

The incident that provoked these questions was that some columnists were questioning, during the recent Syria crisis, why the Turkish plane was actually flying out there in the first place.

According to some colleagues, in such cases the interests of the country come first and nobody can have a stance justifying “the enemy.” This cannot be called press freedom.

I remember the Falklands War in 1982 when the United Kingdom declared war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Prime Minister Thatcher was dragged through the mud by some of the British media. State channel BBC would not use the word “our” in its broadcasts; instead it would say “British ships.” I thought that was strange. When I asked the BBC about this, they answered: “We are not Thatcher’s spokesmen…”

Our media’s general stance in these types of events can be summarized in two words: national and official. It is believed that when there is tension with another country, it is necessary that everybody should validate Ankara and not question any of its policies. This situation is not only valid for the era of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

I know this is so because I have personally experienced it. The same reactions happened during the 1970s and 1980s Aegean and Cyprus crises. Whoever criticized Ankara for an event or a policy and justified the Greeks or Greek Cypriots, and then they would be dragged through the mud.

In these situations, we have no tolerance. We do not accept press freedom. Even if we are not a fan of it, we are caught in the steam of exaggerated nationalism. We are always right; what we say is always true. Even if we think exactly the opposite, we should keep quiet. Any outspoken critic is labeled a traitor.

As you can see, we are all liberal and democratic according to how much it serves our own purpose.

Visa decision: Not historic, belated
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu described it as historic that the European Union had assigned the EU Commission to change the visa applications against Turks. We wouldn’t expect a foreign minister to underestimate such a move, but he over-exaggerated.

In my opinion, this is not a historic, but a very belated step.

The visa decision was taken by Germany in 1974 and was gradually adopted by all EU countries. However, according to the 1963 Turkey-EU agreement, Turkish citizens should have had the right to freedom of movement.

This went on for 38 years. Every enlargement of EU worked against us. However, the AK Party government knocked on the EU door insistently this time. In particular, EU Minister Egemen Bağış struggled incessantly.

The economic crisis also changed the equilibrium. The Turkish economy has become strong and now there are no excuses that Turkish laborers would flood EU countries. In the end, the visa practice has proved to be illogical.

If Europe is clever - if it wants to win the hearts of the Turkish public that it has securely shut its doors to - then it should not act parsimoniously on the visa practice.

June/29/2012

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