Censoring Mosul stories is unacceptable

Censoring Mosul stories is unacceptable

One of the recent irritating tendencies is that the restrictions imposed on the freedom of the press through court orders have spread to grave extent, somehow adopting a systematic characteristic.

Critical incidents, such as the explosion in Reyhanlı, the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe, the gendarmerie raids on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks in Adana and Hatay and the release of the eavesdropping tapes of the Syria meeting in the Foreign Ministry, have led to court’s ruling broadcast bans each time. Bans on Twitter and YouTube are other reflections of the same mentality.

The latest example of these is the broadcast ban imposed on the incident where militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) raided our Mosul Consulate on June 11 and kidnapped staff and other citizens.

The Office of the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor and Investigation Bureau for Crimes against the Constitutional Order launched an investigation the next day, and then demanded a broadcast ban from Ankara’s Third Criminal Court of Peace. The court rejected the demand on June 15.

The office of the chief prosecutor objected to this decision at Ankara’s Ninth Criminal Court. This court found the demand suitable on the same day and decided a “broadcast ban is applied in all kinds of print and visual media and in the internet.”

Within the framework of this ban, it is prohibited to broadcast, report or publish stories about the incident where ISIL kidnapped our citizens in Mosul.

There is an important detail in the decision. Apparently, the investigation is not only limited to securing the lives of the chief consular and other officers, but at the same time the probe is also conducted “because of unnecessary, untrue publications that reveal the weakness of the state.”

Another interesting situation is the investigation was launched so that it is used as a screen to impose a ban on the media, because one of the bases of the ban is “the confidentiality of the inquiry.” 

Another justification is the third article of the Press Code, which respects the protection of public order, public safety, territorial integrity and national security.

However, there is a very important component of the law that has been neglected. Press Code Article 3 emphasizes that these restrictions must be conducted “in accordance with the necessities of a democratic society.”

However, the investigation launched after the incident in Mosul is conducted over the act of “broadcasting or publishing stories that reveal the weaknesses of the state.”

As a matter of fact, it is not possible that such crime criteria accords are with the necessities and values of a democratic society anyway. To launch an investigation over a crime that does not correspond to any law, then use this investigation to impose a ban on the media, is unacceptable in the rule of law.

Such a vision is the representation of a legal order unique to authoritarian regimes.

It is also noteworthy that this ban, dated June 16, coincided with one day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed the press on June 15 in Trabzon, saying, “We want you, please, to cover this process without agitation, without writing, without speaking on it too much.”

Domestic and international press organizations reacted strongly to this ban. The Turkish Journalists’ Association has condemned the decision, defined it as censorship and has taken it to court.

The broadcast ban is also against the practices of the European Court of Human Rights. But, more important than these specific practices is the aspect regarding the essence of democracy. When democracies become the target of attacks by organizations such as ISIL, they have to overcome such evilness without making concessions from the freedom of the press. What makes democracies different from other regimes is they possess the maturity to be able to manage such difficulties.

To resort to broadcast bans immediately is a convenience unique to authoritarian regimes, not to democracies.