It is the EU that needs to ‘Speak Up’ first

It is the EU that needs to ‘Speak Up’ first

This phrase which means “to raise your voice” is also the title of a conference the European Union organizes on freedom of expression and media.

The third of these meetings was held in Brussels on Nov. 3-5 and nearly 300 journalists, legal experts and academics from Turkey and Western Balkan countries participated.

I should say that I attended this meeting with mixed feelings and thoughts being invited from Turkey, in a period when journalism is subject to all kinds of pressures (political, legal, physical) at its strongest level.

The meeting was organized by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body. European Neighborhoods Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said freedom of media was not negotiable. European Parliament Vice President Ulrike Lunacek said Turkey’s Progress Report should have been issued “not after the election but before it.”

As a matter of fact, Lunacek’s words should not be considered as self-criticism, but rather as a severe criticism of one core organ within the EU of another core organ. Especially when it is evaluated together with her words, “After the Progress Report is issued, we will also issue our own report in which we will not be silent about freedom of media issues.”

Because of postponing the Progress Report until after the elections, the European Commission was criticized for adopting a pragmatist stance due to the refugee negotiations. Exactly for this reason, it is wondered what kind of a path it will follow in the near future.

To put it more openly, it is a concern whether or not the EU will speak up on the heavy unlawful environment we are experiencing in Turkey and whether or not it will violate its core founding values for the sake of being less affected by the “refugee” problem.

In this context, the “SpeakUp! 3” meeting became a platform where the sad situation of media freedoms in Turkey was clearly voiced as much as possible.

Prof. Yaman Akdeniz highlighted that media in Turkey was under a blockade and not only academics but anybody who criticized the president and government officials on social media were subject to criminal proceedings.

Journalist Yavuz Baydar explained how journalists in Turkey were trying to do their jobs in a minefield, in an open prison. Baydar highlighted, “I am utterly concerned that the EU now sends all the wrong signals to Ankara: A willingness to trade, to bargain in the worst sort of realpolitik sense, swapping ‘curbing the refugee flow’ with our freedom and rights.”

He called on EU friends, saying, “All I will say to our friends in the EU is this: Don’t horse trade with oppressors on our common values and core principles. “

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks referred to the media ban on the Ankara massacre, the police operation on the İpek-Koza Group, the assault on columnist Ahmet Hakan, the arrest of Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş and the removal of certain television stations from the Digiturk platform and said that freedom of media was descending in Turkey.

Freedom of expression, as Lunacek reiterated, is the core value of democracy. As Hahn said, “It is not negotiable.”

However, these words are not enough to solve the correlation between the “refugee talks” and freedom of expression, an unfortunate equation that is starting to emerge in the Turkey-EU accession process after the elections.

This is for now, indeed. Even though it is unknown how much of this pragmatism based on economic interests will allow, the road to the solution of this dirty equation is for the EU to raise a louder voice against the attacks on media in the name of humanitarian values:


Çiğdem Toker is a columnist for daily Cumhuriyet in which this piece appeared on Nov. 7.