A new blow to democracy and press freedom

A new blow to democracy and press freedom

Now is not the time to try and settle old scores in the media. Zaman may well have been an avid supporter of the Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) cases against alleged coup plotters in the military, and their supposed co-conspirators in the civilian domain. We all know how those cases ended in a fiasco, and the embarrassment or regret that many Zaman editors and columnists now appear to feel – with some having already apologized openly – seems sufficient retribution for those past misdeeds.

The position that Zaman took when highly questionable cases were being opened against prominent names in the Kemalist camp, with some ending up incarcerated for up to five years, however, does not justify the way that the daily is now being hounded by the authorities. It is the principle of the matter that is important here.

The warrants issued for Zaman’s editor-in-chief and prominent columnists from the paper, as well as members of the Samanyolu TV channel – which is also part of the Gülen group – is clearly a fresh blow to the freedom of the press in Turkey, no matter how the pro-government media is trying to spin this now.

Turkish and international media watchdog groups are also taking it as such and are correctly condemning this development. The United States and the European Union have also expressed their official concern over the raid on the Gülen group’s media outlets and what this signifies for Turkey’s already precarious democracy.

Not every supporter of the government is happy with these latest developments, of course. One can nevertheless question their honesty over the concerns they are expressing. They appear to be more worried that these developments will leave President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in a worse light, rather than what this means for democracy, freedom of the press and the rule of law.

Abdülkadir Selvi, a prominent mouthpiece for Erdoğan, who is also the Ankara representative of the pro-government Yeni Şafak newspaper, is a case in point. “Are those who carried out this operation aware of how they have contributed to perceptions? What they have done has achieved nothing other than disgracing Turkey in the eyes of the world,” Selvi said in his column on Monday.

“What has been done is wrong. How can journalists be guilty if they have not engaged in violence, or criminality, or produced false documents?” Selvi added. These remarks have to be taken with a pinch of salt, given their author's known track record. 

On reading these remarks, many will have conjectured that he is essentially concerned about Erdoğan and the government’s international reputation, more than anything else. Perhaps we should not try and second-guess Selvi and those who think like him, but let their words speak for them.

Suffice it to say, however, that Selvi’s remarks contrast sharply with the almost celebratory tone employed by Yeni Şafak over the Zaman and Samanyolu raids. All of this is part of the bitter war between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, of course.

The government appears bent on running its former Islamist allies in the Gülen group into the ground, forgetting how together they had closed ranks when the law and the police were being used – or rather abused – to hound Kemalists and other anti-AKP elements.

It is all too easy, therefore, for staunch secularists who oppose both Erdoğan and Gülen to say, “Let them fight it out and finish each other off.” It is, however, not vengeance but justice, and the rule of law that is important here. It is also democracy and the freedom of the press that is important here.

This case against Zaman and Samanyolu will clearly not contribute anything to these. Meanwhile, Selvi is right to be concerned over the disgrace that this case will bring, the only caveat being that the disgrace will not be Turkey’s. It will attach itself to those who have created the environment under the guise of a “New Turkey” which is enabling all of this to happen.