Hurrah: Partly free again
Turkey must be celebrating, God knows with how many days of festivities. Alms should be distributed to the obedient subjects of the absolute ruler, the new tenant of the new imperial palace. There is a huge reason to celebrate: While the 2013 media freedom report of the Freedom House on Turkey condemned the country as “not free”, the 2014 country status was declared to be “partly free.”
After the “not free” 2013 press freedom report, maintaining its traditional “partly free” rating for Turkey is the discrepancy that Freedom House should answer as it is almost impossible to understand how a country could be partly free” while its media is “not free.” Yet, at least in one report, even superficially, Turkey appears to have been elevated. Well no one should ask what the difference is between a country or its media being “not free” and “partly free,” as there ought to be a big difference. If freedom of expression and freedom of media constitute the backbone of democratic governance, has there been any improvement since the “not free” media report and the “partly free” country report?
Is there a similarity between “partly free” and “semi-pregnant?” Well, if someone can be “partly free,” they can also be “partly pregnant;” why not? Which part of Turkey, for example, is free and which part is not free? Taksim and the Gezi Park area were definitely not free in 2013. But are they free now? Was it not in the 2015 plans and investment budget of the municipality to rehash the same construction plans for the park? Perhaps 2013 was a “not free” year for Turkey because of those killed during the Gezi incidents in Istanbul and throughout the country. But, did not security forces, mobs of all sorts, kill far more people in 2014? For example, what about the October uprising rehearsal using Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist attacks on Kobane as a pretext?
Elevation for Turkey in the international arena of any sort or even a sense of elevation by putting apples and pears in one basket, is of course great news for all patriots at home, but someone should tell Turks why in 2013 the country’s media was relegated to “not free” status and now has “won back” or “maintained” its much-accustomed “partly free” status? What is the scale?
Satire and irony apart, Turkey is passing through one of its worst periods. Some clever friends are rehashing the dead “new constitution” song, without realizing that under the current climate the only “new constitution” the almighty and all-powerful absolute ruler might permit can be one of an elected dictatorship. Even that might be a distant probability under the present day realities of Turkey. What is the governing model of Turkey today? Is it a parliamentary democracy, or a presidential system? The absolute ruler was asking for a “Turkish-style presidential system” and without making even a comma change in the constitution, the country has moved on to the system he demanded.
Who is ruling the country today? Is it the prime minister or the president? Who is making the appointments today, the prime minister, ministers and director-generals or the president and his shadow presidential cabinet? Who is laying down policies? Who is the executive?
Despite all the powers he acquired thanks to the overwhelming ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) majority in parliament, an obedient prime minister, the cabinet, a large state-owned media segment and the bureaucracy, who have been turned into “servants of the ruling party,” is the president accountable? No? Because the “de-facto Turkish-style presidential system” does not have any sort of checks and balances? The president is all-powerful, but he is totally irresponsible for everything he does or does not and cannot be held accountable for anything, except treason to the state.
Is this what semi-free status might mean? The EU-funded Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists (of which this writer is the project coordinator) will release its annual report Monday. The 140-page-plus report is full of examples of wholesale violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and the advance of a climate of fear, censorship, self-censorship, rampant lay-offs in the media sector and 21 journalists still in prison despite all the promises. How can a country be “partly free” if, from the top executive down to the impotent bureaucrat vying to appear as the “good guy” to the absolute power-holder, accuse journalists of “terrorism” or say “we need to undertake an immediate operation on these journalists?” What operation? Who are you? Or, is it indeed possible to ignore all criticism pertaining to the worsening rights climate in the country as a “parallel plot” or the “work of evil Western circles?”
The difference between a “not free” media and a “semi-free” country might be very much like having “no democracy” and “semi-democracy.” If there is no democracy, there might be a demand to move on to democratic governance, but when there is semi-pregnancy, pardon, semi-democracy, well, people might just get confused and believe that is what democracy indeed is.