Press for freedom

Press for freedom

Turkey is passing through some rather unpleasant days. The president of the country is publicly targeting newsmen. The premier, talking at a local convention of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), says everyone was taking an examination nowadays. What examination? Those who align with “democracy” or engage in an allegiance relationship with the government would be awarded, while those who exercise the fundamental right to criticize, that is, oppose the government in any manner, would be severely punished.

Can this mentality be reconciled with the notion of democracy? Quite possible if democracy is comprised solely of the election box and whoever wins the majority has the right to walk in the village in any fashion they would like. How can the president of the country target a section of the society and accuse them of being traitors who deserved to be smashed? Or, how could the prime minister place himself in the shoes of an “examiner” to award loyalists and botch up the opponents?

Since the early hours of yesterday, Dec. 14, an operation has been continuing in the country against the former allies of the ruling AKP, the Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood. Scores of people, including top executives of newspapers and TV stations and many top cops were placed behind bars. It was not a surprise for anyone, for the past many days, even the names of those detained were published on electronic media. Indeed, Zaman’s editor-in-chief prepared and waited in his office for two days with thousands of people chanting support for him outside. Why?

The main opposition branded the development as a “coup against democracy.” Can there be a coup against anything else, it is always democracy and freedoms castrated in coups and Turks know this far better than anyone else. If freedoms and democracy are compromised today for the sake of satisfying the grandiose hunger for power of some people, can we not brand nasty developments going on as a coup just because they did not have epaulettes on their shoulders?

These are the times to develop solidarity, not only among members of the journalism profession, but throughout the intellectual and non-governmental spheres who indeed mind for democracy, as like coups have transformed themselves and became civilian, resistance must transform and be civilian. This coup must be fought with solidarity between intellectuals aligned for the defense of freedoms. That was why the EU-funded Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists has highlighted with praise the defiance by many Turkish media outlets of a court-imposed censorship on news regarding the processions of the parliamentary Investigation Committee. Newspapers, from left to right and to the liberals defying the ban was indeed a “turning point” in the history of the Turkish press. Obviously, as the November report of the Press for Freedom underlined “a court-imposed censorship of proceedings of a parliamentary committee was a first-ever in the history of the Turkish republic that cannot be reconciled with the principle of freedom of press.”

But the court-imposed censorship of a parliamentary committee or yesterday’s operation rounding up scores of senior journalists besides top cops were not the only problems. Turkish media, the report underlined, has come under a systematic censorship effort disguised as an “accreditation requirement.”

Under that practice from the top echelons of the state administration down to all ministries and to all state institutions’ reporters (of media outlets whose editors were detained Sunday) were denied access to news. Thus, the constitutionally safeguarded right of the public to have access to news was curtailed. The state apparatus and the judiciary becoming the “farm” of a political party might be the worst thing to happen for democratic governance. The November report of the Press for Freedom project, which was released on Dec. 11, was indeed pointing out at the approaching catastrophic political undertaking by the courts. The report underlined that it was unfortunate for the highest authority of the state to use expressions such as “These [journalists] require an abrupt an immediate operation” against media members.

Indeed, on Sunday the “immediate operation” order of highest post of the state was started to be carried out against some journalists. Will others outside dungeons be free forever? Remember that famous American story, will giving the cow with white dots satisfy the wolves? Would not they ask for the black one with horns, or the lame one next time?

It is high time to press for freedoms now, tomorrow will be too late…

* HDN writer Yusuf Kanlı is also the project coordinator of the Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists