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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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READER COMMENTS

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Deniz Can

6/29/2012 9:33:59 PM

The journalist believe that they have obligation to justify the policy of government for the sake of national interest are short-sighted and believe in principle of win-loss game, whereas the game of war is only loss-loss. Furthermore these types of journalists don't live in real world and don’t work for peace, but work for their owner/ruler as poppet. On the other hand, if a system called “democracy” and pressurises journalist to act like soldier is not a democratic system, but…

john albay

6/29/2012 8:45:00 PM

The EU along with the Euro is doomed sooner or later to the dustbin of history.The power mad fools who run the EU are un elected and all they want is a one state europe which will never work.Turkey on the other hand is expanding and does not need the EU and its people will soon all have bread and work and its people will have a well educated youth who will no longer wish to live and work abroad. Many Turks in Germany are returning home and bringing skills with them to benifit Turkey.

The Lion

6/29/2012 8:20:06 PM

JRC JRC, so why are countries in worse economic shape than Turkiye in every way like Bulgaria and Romania allowed in then?

Thracian Anatolian

6/29/2012 7:55:54 PM

@JRC JRC: Averages wages in Turkey are higher than some "EU" countries like Romania and Bulgaria. Comparing Western Europe to Turkey is simply unfair. Some played on people's fears by arguing there would be an unsustainable flood of poor people into the more prosperous European countries when Spain, Portugal and Greece joined the EU, but none of these exaggerated fears were realized.

Rimon Tree

6/29/2012 7:10:10 PM

Mr. Birand This is the second reasonable and well thought out comment I have read of you recently. On the EU problem: EU is just afraid that once Turkey would join in she would try to blackmail the instituion like she did blackmail in the recent year everybody who would not do according to her wishes. Europe would not like to have a zealous choleric (or two!) within its ranks. Sorry, but the reputation of your PM and FM has seriously been hurt by some really strange behaviour!

Philpot

6/29/2012 5:05:36 PM

@Sam. Sam I completely agree with you. Moreover, a strong confident leadership welcomes criticism and debate where as a frightened one quashes it at every opportunity.

Thessalonian

6/29/2012 4:02:52 PM

Mr. Birand, I can't help but wonder why there is no mention of illegal migrants and their numbers finding their way into the EU via Turkey been assisted for a fee by Turkish nationals known as human smugglers, while Turkish border authorities are intentionally looking the other way. Unless Turkey commits to their "re-admission agreement", requested by the EU, the issue of easing Visa requirements for Turkish nationals travelling abroad will end up in the freezer, as it should. Regards

alper riza

6/29/2012 1:11:00 PM

Turkey is a party yo the European Convention of Human Rights, article 10 of which guarantees freedom of expression except when when necessary in the interest of national security, territorial integrity or public safety. Usually it is obvious when curtailment of freedom of expression is necessary for those reasons. The downing of the plane whilst on a training exercise by a previous friendly country when the nation is not at war does not obviously engage national security.

JRC JRC

6/29/2012 11:27:32 AM

"there are no excuses that Turkish laborers would flood EU countries". Are you serious? The average income in Turkey is still far below that of Western Europe, as for living standards...... It may be that right now, the flood gates won't be pushed open, but once the crises is over and Europe gets back on its feet again, those that can will, and those that can't will find a way.

sam stevens

6/29/2012 9:49:54 AM

Well said Mr Briand. So without freedom to ask questions or disprove policy ,what you end up with is a propaganda sheet ! It is vital to have freedom of the press, many in Turkey haven't a clue about 'the other view point', one sees the closed minds in many comments on this pages. It is also the sign of a healthy country/people when its strong enough to question itself....same goes for religion of course. There is no other way to educate & eventually make up ones own mind on any given issue !
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