The Nuray Mert issue in EU-Turkey dialogue
The issue of journalists who lost their jobs because of their political stance and whose situation was brought up by deputies from the European Union (EU) constituted one of the most interesting topics in last week’s meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Commission in Istanbul.
Richard Howitt of Britain’s Labour Party, also a member of the European Parliament’s Socialist Group, voiced the most critical response, and this he did by specifically pronouncing the names of Nuray Mert and Banu Güven.
Speaking at this joint forum that brings together the representatives of the Turkish Parliament and the European Parliament, Howitt said the repression of press freedoms in Turkey had reached a worrying level and that opposition journalists were either placed under arrest or lost their jobs, while laying the blame squarely on the government’s shoulders. Howitt expounded that Nuray Mert, a columnist for the daily Milliyet, had lost her space in the paper and that Banu Güven, a news show producer and host at the broadcasting station NTV, was forced to resign. “In fact, they were both journalists who had lent their support to the government in the past,” he said.
“However, there are also a number of shortcomings that Turkey needs to tackle swiftly. The commission at various occasions expressed strong concern as regards respect for fundamental rights, and in particular freedom of expression and detention on remand,” said Jean Maurice Ripert, the EU’s new ambassador in Ankara, while expounding on the EU’s position.
Bağış: Mert ought to be able to defend her ideas
EU Chief Negotiator and State Minister Egemen Bağış, who was present on the first day of the meeting, responded to these criticisms.
“Ask that question to Nuray Mert and those who took her column away. How do I know? It must be either because her columns go unread or because her bosses dislike the ideas she entertains. This, however, cannot have anything to do with us or the government. If you draw a connection between [her losing her column] and her criticism of the government, then this argument is falsified by the continued occupation of columnists who are far more fiercely critical [of the government] than her,” Bağış said.
Bağış thus concluded his remarks: “Even if I disagree with her ideas, I attach great importance to Mert’s freedom to defend her ideas.”
Just as these talks were underway at the commission’s meeting, weekly British magazine the Economist also brought up Nuray Mert’s situation. Nuray Mert was “fired from her job” due to her dissident views, the Economist wrote.
A new problem in the West’s point of view
What do all these debates, writings and the close interest shown by Western embassies toward Nuray Mert indicate?
It seems the situation of dissident journalists is entering the agenda of European institutions, and the European public in general, as a new item in the list of the problems of Turkish democracy, after the case of arrested journalists. Apparently, we are going to hear the names of Ece Temelkuran, Mehmet Altan, Nuray Mert, Banu Güven and others rather frequently in the coming period.
The gaze then turns, of course, toward the government in wake of all these criticisms. It constitutes a separate matter for consideration the degree to which the government has any direct responsibility in these arrangements. Even in circumstances where the government does not bear any direct responsibility, the drawing of a connection between such practices that target journalists and the scope and the breadth of the freedom of expression in the country is inevitable.
To some extent, such practices of this kind are also viewed as a consequence, a reflection, or a by-product of the general political climate that holds sway in a country. Moreover, to a significant degree, it is none other than the government that is liable for this climate through its style, rhetoric, behavioral patterns and sometimes its passivity.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in the habit of underlining the importance he ascribes to the freedom of expression at every turn. “We would not consent to others being subjected to what was done to us,” he had said at a reception of the daily Zaman last month. “We have been struggling to construe a milieu where everyone [can] speak freely in the language of their choice, and where no one feels the threat of repression hanging over them. We hold no doubts about our ideas, our beliefs and sense of right and wrong. We thus have no fear of anyone else’s ideas or thoughts, nor would we obstruct the freedom of expression. And we would not permit those who do want to obstruct it either,” he had added.
What does Erdoğan, who reminds us at every opportunity that he had “fallen” because of a poem he read, feel when it is journalists who “fall from their columns and programs”?
This article originally was published by Hürriyet on Feb. 28. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff. Nuray Mert is currently a columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News.