It’s gag time

It’s gag time

Turkey is debating once again the merits of court-ordered media censorship, in contravention of Article 25 of the Constitution that safeguards the “citizens’ right to be informed.”

If democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln outlined in his famous Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, freedom of expression and freedom of media must have vital importance. Can it be possible to make conscious decisions on any issue without being sufficiently informed of that particular thing? If people are to make fact-based decisions on how the country must be governed, should not the people need to be adequately informed about the issues of that country? If the media is biased in allegiance relations with a political team, or if there is an atmosphere of fear and people are scared of listening to what others are saying - let alone expressing their own opinions - can there be hope for democracy? Or, can there be hope if a country’s courts frequently clamp gag orders on all media outlets to keep away from the eyes, ears and brains all major issues of the nation, be they corruption, graft or favoritism?

The “what if the law is put aside this one time?” mentality is dreadful and displays an anti-democratic mind at work. Even though a target in the interest of the nation may be reached by temporarily putting to one side a key law, putting democracy aside would constitute a heinous crime with grave consequences. In Turkey, “exceptions” have unfortunately become the routine, despite all the pro-democracy cries and lofty “new Turkey” rhetoric.

Gender equality is very important for democracy and the world was informed from the mouth of the Turkish president that by nature, man and woman cannot be equals. Those wise words might appear irrelevant with the current discussion, but indeed “by nature” democracy and political or non-political Islam cannot co-exist in governance. The clash between the “sacrosanct” or “divine” and the “man-made” cannot end with the victory of men. As religion is built on the non-questionability of the almighty, if not confined to the private sphere, religion dominates everything, negates the importance of the norms and values of democratic governance that contradict the “road of God” or “Sharia.”

In such a society, what is important is, of course, what is said by the “most trustworthy” grand master, the almighty absolute ruler said or even thought of any subject. Reality becomes irrelevant and subsequent to the perceived remarks of the absolute ruler. However, for a wise decision and “correct” vote the electorate needs to be adequately and sufficiently informed of the conditions of the country so that at the voting booth s/he can healthily decide on his/her preferences.

Alas, the parliamentary debate and the examination period ahead were declared off limits of the media by an Ankara court at the request of the parliamentary commission exploring the January graft and the misuse of office charges. Why? Because the parliamentary committee considered the allegations against the four ministers, their sons and associates, explosive enough to ruin their reputation. The former ministers in question are not, of course, more valuable than anyone else who are exposed freely on the front pages for far trivial alleged crimes. Yet, they are ruling party deputies and under the principles of the Turkish democracy only those politicians ousted by coups from their comfortable chairs, or ousted by political opponents in an election van be probed.

The Uludere incident, where apparently because of an intelligence scandal, the Turkish Air Force bombed 34 “innocent” smugglers to death and 149 other judicial cases were covered with a blanket media ban. Alone in the first six months of 2014, according to what Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç wrote to Parliament, in 24 cases courts clamped down bans on media.

Such bans might temporarily suspend freedoms, but the truth will eventually prevail. Yet, if there were 149 court-ordered censorship cases in the past decade, but a high 24 such developments in the first half of 2014, I may say with full confidence that Turkey is running fast for a new world record.