While President Abdullah Gül was holding a joint press conference with his Ecuadoran counterpart, Rafael Correo Delgado, at Çankaya Mansion in Ankara
last Thursday, he was asked about his views on the release of four journalists a few days earlier.
The president replied: “The court has contributed a great deal to Turkey’s image with the decision that finally it has reached. Indeed it has pleased us, too, that they are released pending trial.”
It is impossible to accept Gül’s statement. Whether it was said intuitively, that is, if it echoed as a cognitive background reflex in the reply given to the question or was a predesigned prediction of the upcoming questions from reporters does not matter.
I wish the president had said something like, “I wish that the release of journalists will be a step in expanding the boundaries of freedom of press in Turkey.” Or if he had said, “I hope these releases will be beneficial for our democracy.”
But no, it is image – image at all costs.
It means that the problem is not in which league of the world Turkey is playing regarding democracy, rule of law, pluralism and freedom of expression and press. The problem has never been how much pleasure those inhaling the air of freedom into their lungs can get, those who have a word to say in Turkey. No, it was merely image.
Instead of “Turkey’s situation” being well, what matters is reflecting that situation nicely and beautifully to the outside world.
And, afterwards, the echoing of this image back to those ruling the country as countless benefits. Unfortunately, what matters is that.
If it is hoped that the release of four journalists while about 100 journalists are in jail will contribute to Turkey’s image a great deal, then it is so obvious that what is wished here is some “perception management.”
It is true that the major fracture in Turkey caused by arrests of Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık ruptured Turkey’s image almost immediately as it echoed around the world.
Now, it is assumed that the damage caused by the arrests has been repaired by the releases. In a way, it is the turning of the tide.
If I were the president and his team, I would not have acted by assumptions; I would have checked the situation of the image with a reality test. For example, I would have sought the answers to these questions:
Have we really succeeded in repairing our tarnished image by releasing four of the 100 arrested journalists?
Is the feeling of relief created in the world with the release of four journalists equal to the spiritual and moral weight of currently holding nearly 100 journalists in jail?
In other words, when you subtract four from 100, is the result “zero” or “96”?
Somehow, we started calling them “journalists” when four of them were released. If we continue calling the journalists in jail, as one minister did in an interview with the BBC, “terrorists, bank robbers and rapists,” then wouldn’t our credibility and image before the world receive worse wounds?
We hope that those who have arrested the journalists and those who have unconscientiously been partners in this cruelty have finally understood, in the light of the experience they had to go through, that Turkey is not one of those countries that have been immune to the world such as a Russia, a China
or a Saudi Arabia.
Having struck deals at the regional geopolitical level with your Western interlocutors does not, as you can see, help save “the image” in the eyes of the public of those countries.
And finally, if the release of four journalists “has contributed a great deal to Turkey’s image,” then it means that what has hugely sunk Turkey’s image is the political will that has arrested them.
Now that, for Turkey’s new powerful, protecting the image comes before democracy and freedom of press and expression, then it is up to the intellectuals, media organizations and nongovernmental organizations of Turkey to make this ruling class realize and start thinking that currently holding 90 some odd journalists in jail will continue to tarnish the image.
With his statement, which provided a theme for this piece, the esteemed president has made an important confession and has provided a critical starting point.
Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on March 19. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.