A bitter Turkish consistency

A bitter Turkish consistency

This is from an editorial in The Guardian’s March 19, 1927 issue, titled “Turkish newspaper editors jailed over cartoon”:

“In Constantinople [Istanbul] the profession of satirist is evidently a dangerous trade. A Turkish paper recently published a cartoon which showed the women citizens of that country rising in a balloon by the expedient of throwing out bags of ballast labelled ‘Conscience,’ ‘Honour,’ and ‘Virtue.’

“A Constantinople Court has just held that this was defamatory of Turkish women in general, with the result that editor, assistant editors, and cartoonist have all been fined and sent to prison for periods ranging from one month to five … But that is a discovery which has evidently still to be made by the courts of the newer Turkey.”

The Turkey we live in today is 89 years “newer” than The Guardian’s “newer Turkey” of 1927. After almost one century, today journalists in the EU candidate country Turkey probably spend more time in courtroom corridors than their colleagues did in 1927. 

Turkey’s century-long regression is, sadly, all too visible. The Istanbul journalists in 1927 could at least get away with fines and prison sentences of up to five months. Today the penalty for the journalism that falls outside the scope of “yellow journalism” could earn a maverick journalist jail sentences ranging from a few years to a few life sentences.

Last week’s separate trials of the journalists Sedat Ergin and Can Dündar and Erdem Gül - as well as the systematic attacks from the noisy-to-militant ranging pro-government media on our flagship newspaper, Hürriyet - were clear messages about the kind of journalism the ruling elite is aggressively trying to build. In the past, “courtroom journalism” referred to reporting from the courtrooms. Ironically it now refers to any kind of journalism that may be deemed “hostile” by the ruling political caste, their business cronies, and their comrades-in-arms in the media.

Also ironically, every Turkish courtroom displays as a matter of judicial tradition a plaque bearing the famous dictum: “Justice is the foundation of the State.” No doubt the dictum is fine. But if it is indeed right, then even the Turks think their country looks “foundation-less.” A credible survey in January found that nearly two thirds of Turks (65 percent) think the judiciary is being politicized, compared with 49.6 percent who thought the same in 2011 (and 58.7 percent in 2014). Sixty-five percent means that some of the pro-government Turks also must be thinking that Turkey has a politicized judiciary. “It is fine to have a politicized judiciary as long as it is politicized in favor of our ideology or party.”

Last week’s curious trials of the journalists Ergin, Dündar and Gül, the court blackout in the case of the latter two, and the tall shadow of Turkey’s rulers invisibly standing behind the courtrooms, once again demonstrated that Turkish justice is getting closer, day by day, to Arabian justice rather than the independent judicial practices in the Western clubs that Turkey has theoretically strong, loose, or loosening bonds with. 

Ironically, only two days after the Turkish journalists had to stand trial on March 25 Saudi Arabia sentenced a journalist, Alaa Brinji, to five years in jail for insulting the kingdom’s rulers and “inciting public opinion” on Twitter. Mr. Brinji allegedly had ridiculed Islamic religious figures and accused security officials of killing protesters in eastern Saudi Arabia. 

Fortunately, the Turkish justice system does not allow amputations, leashes or the capital punishment – yet.

But “inciting public opinion” could be a perfect Saudi inspiration for the ruling lawmakers who may wish to avoid such heavy crimes in the “new, even newer Turkey.”