Domestication, Turkish style
The country was preparing to learn what a “Turkish-style presidential regime” might mean but was instead given practical lessons on “Turkish-style critical media domestication.”
The Koza case last year was the apprentice work of a new invention: court-appointed trustees. The Feza group case, which included the appointment of trustees to the Zaman group and the Cihan news agency, was like hitting two birds with one stone: a perfect assistant master work. The Koza case also involved two newspapers and a TV station – which were all first made pro-government before being closed down last month on the grounds that they were making losses. Seeing the performances by the apprentice and assistant masters, I can only say may God save the Turkish media from the “master” performance of this demonic understanding of the “domestication of the critics.”
Which media outlet might be the next victim in the “process” is now up for bets but more or less everyone is aware where the government will target next time. When? It depends. Will there be a referendum on the presidential regime or on a constitution that ushers in the nightmare of a presidential regime come fall? There are claims that the “absolute boss” of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is determined to get a vote on the issue by September or October at the latest, carry the country to presidential rule and get rid of the “duality” in governance.
Indeed, perhaps presidential rule will be far better than the current semi-democratic parliamentary rule in the country provided the new system includes a proper system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, that is where there is a problem with this idea of a Turkish-style presidency. The absolute power holder of the country has been categorically against any sort of checks and balances. Besides his aspiration of becoming the sole and unchallengeable executive power, he wants to be the enforcer and all-powerful president holding the strings of both the judiciary and the legislative. The separation of powers must go down the drain, while the collection of all three powers in his hands must be achieved. But he should not be called a dictator. Well, after the famous “Chef salad,” this will be the “Chef system.” Naturally all critics – if anyone dares to be critical – must be cleansed for reasons required by the “well-being of the nation” and “national security.”
Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament, tweeted Saturday that “the seizure of #Zaman is yet another blow to #pressfreedom in #Turkey. I intend to raise this issue on Monday @Ahmet_Davutoğlu.” An answer was posted on the same social media outlet by former Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış, who was compelled to step down after some serious fraud charges. “You’ve not been terrorized by those claiming to be journalists but I have. Appointing caretaker isn’t political but LEGAL.”
The problem the country has been facing for some time was exactly what Bağış indeed described. Media reports on alleged cases of fraud, misuse of office and illegitimate deals by the Turkish state were unacceptable if such actions were undertaken by the journalists whose newspapers, TV stations and news agencies were in need of domestication, bringing into line or closure, of course not by the government directly but by people wearing the government’s gloves. Why would the government hold the hot potatoes with their bare hands?
Now that Martin Schultz disclosed he would take up the seizure of the Feza Publishing group that included Zaman, Today’s Zaman and the Cihan news agency, I may suggest some questions that he could ask Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
1) Is Turkey a democracy? If it is a democracy, is there a place for any criticism of those in power in that democratic Turkey?
2) Can the president of a “democratic country” publicly denounce a decision by the country’s Constitutional Court and say he would not obey its verdict?
3) How many journalists are behind bars? What are the crimes they were charged with?
4) What is the percentage of media outlets administered by court-appointed trustees? Is it normal for newspapers, TV stations and news agencies to change their reporting policies immediately after they were placed under trustees? Are trustees caretakers expected to guard the interests of investors, owners of media outlets or agents to domesticate publications according to the government’s wishes?
5) If trustees were appointed to “salvage” the media outlets, was it normal for those trustees to close down the entire media section of the holding they were appointed to take care of?
6) What is the number of unemployed journalists? Why within the last two years have over 1,500 journalists become unemployed?
7) Why has Turkey been the champion of electronic media access restrictions?
8) Why in the last 18 months has the presidency filed some 2,000 complaints about “insults to the president?”
There are many other questions that might be asked, but Schultz will naturally have some other priorities he will seek to raise at his meeting with Davutoğlu.