Clogs of advanced democracy
Meeting with her was an addiction. Every day at 11:00, irrespective how busy I was with some other occupation I would abandon everything briefly just to meet her. Accompanied always by another friend from the neighborhood, she was coming through that window screen into my study with all her seriousness as a newswoman; with a gentle smile on her face.
With no prior notice; no advance warning; without a remark implying her time was up all of a sudden she said she was told she would go on an early summer vacation. The meaning of such a sentence in our profession was clear; the gods wanted a sacrifice! Her program on the CNN Türk channel, however, was one of the last platforms in the media neighborhood where despite all the cunning pogroms of the ruling Islamists aimed at totally silencing the critics a glimpse of free thought was still available. I will miss Ayşegül Arslan and her “Medya Mahallesi” program. Goodbye Ayşe, you did your work rather well. You were an echo of the inner and silent screams of the neighborhood.
Often people ask me whether there was any resemblance between censorship applications during the military rule times and the conditions of Turkish media now. Well, when you have anti-democratic governance such as a coup government that applies censorship on the media, the rule of the game has always been clear: Abide by the orders. That is, the anti-democratic governance issues lists of taboos, hot subjects, restricted words and expressions and such and orders the journalist not to step in those areas. What was restricted and what was allowed was clear; the borders of freedom were known. Abiding with censorship, as painful as it might be, was rather easy.
In “advanced democracies” where rather than pluralism, majoritarianism is preferred and believed to constitute the backbone of “good governance,” there can be of course no official censorship. No journalist is required to obtain a special permit to travel anywhere, though the Prime Ministry, for example, might be declared off-limits for some who were not liked that much by the prime minister and thus were denied accreditation.
Journalists are free to write whatever they would like, but the government may dispatch tax controllers and punish the publishers in many forms if ever they dare to run articles and stories in their newspapers, radios or TV stations. Or, the prime minister may come up with a public declaration telling publishers they should know better what to put and what not to put in the window of their businesses, thus, must know to avoid giving space in their media outlets to those “not so good-looking” writers.
While prosecutors with special authority may dispatch to Silivri and to other “good behavior teaching camps” those journalists who refuse to engage in an allegiance relationship, the government might come up and claim there were no journalists behind bars because of their journalistic performance.
Self censorship is far worse than official censorship and that is the fundamental difference between a democracy under boots and a democracy under clogs; pardon, an advanced democracy.