The new free Turkey

The new free Turkey

The Radio and Television High Board (RTÜK) must be disbanded, if not radically overhauled, and stripped of its political manipulation at the hands of the majority political party, which is the government. Growing conservatism in the country has turned the RTÜK into a body that clamps bigoted fines on any scene considered incompatible with the “family values” of the nation; one would think they are in one of those countries with morality guards or vice squads.

Last week the RTÜK handed a record fine of 410,000 Turkish Liras or about $180,000, to the popular “I Don’t Know, My Spouse Knows” game show for a segment where husbands were filmed dancing with other women as their wives looked on. According to the RTÜK rapporteur, virtuous Turkish ladies can dance only with their husbands and no one else. Thus, the RTÜK board decided ladies dancing with the husbands of other participants was “contrary to public morality and the Turkish family structure.” So? The RTÜK clamped down the record fine on the popular private channel Kanal D to save the honor of the nation. In a way, what the RTÜK did was a contemporary form of an honor crime, which indeed might be considered far more “civilized” than the accustomed premeditated murder of ladies alleged to have been involved in “immoral” actions by their families. Shall we then say, “Well done, at least no blood was shed?” Or, was the mentality exposed in this fine worrisome enough to be irritated for the future of this country drifting fast in the flood of religious conservatism? A statement from the RTÜK explained that the fine was imposed because the show, broadcast by Kanal D in November, had “encouraged men to cheat on their wives and provided an environment to disturb the family peace.” Worse, the RTÜK said women in the show were “reduced to sexual objects.”

It is of course up to women and men to decide with whom they might dance, or how intimate they should be while dancing. It is none of the business of the RTÜK or the state to make a decision on such private affairs. If the spouses of the men or the women involved have any problems, they have the option to stay away from such programs. Such fines, as the RTÜK’s member from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) contingency Süleyman Demirkan has said, is nothing further than the conservative members of the RTÜK – elected either from the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) or the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) contingencies – trying to impose their lifestyle on the entire nation. RTÜK chief Davut Dursun disagreed, claiming that it was not just the dance for which the show was fined but there was much in the show that had stepped over the limit. According to Hürriyet, he claimed the decision that the show was not in line with the concept of the family was a result of an assessment because it looked “ugly” that couples had been made to feel uncomfortable with each other.

No one has, so far, started carrying sticks and watching over the conformity to moral and religious values in our neighborhoods. With liberal use of teargas, water cannons and all such sorts of “modern equipment” as well as state institutions such as the RTÜK, banking watchdog, energy board and of course the “free courts,” all the “protest genes” and the “surviving rebellious spirit” of the nation are wanted to be domesticated so that a new, obedient, devoid of character clan of serfs worshipping the almighty all-powerful sultan replace the citizens of the Turkish republic…

I feel ashamed to witness all this happening in this beautiful country. Seeing the horrendous use of force by security elements of the state on teachers exercising their peaceful right to protest at Ankara’s Tandoğan square this past weekend, I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed because of the journalists behind bars and statements of the elected president of the country distorting why they were deprived of their freedoms, saying “of course journalists can be imprisoned, are they above justice? Are they there because they were journalists?” Why is Hidayet Karaca in prison? Why was Ekrem Dumanlı under detention for four days? Why has Mustafa Balbay served almost six years at Silivri? What was Tuncay Özkan’s crime? Were they involved in anything other than journalism? Is it indeed possible to reconcile with the notion of justice to place people under detention for almost a week, saying there was “reasonable doubt” against him? Who guarantees that anyone of us would not be taken tomorrow morning just because someone said there was “reasonable doubt” that we are involved in something illegal?

I am ashamed of living in a country that became champion with the highest number of intellectuals, journalists and professors in prison. I am ashamed of the state paying back, with accrued interest, the money confiscated in the worst corruption case of the Turkish state, as if corruption is something to be awarded.

Is this the new and free Turkey? I better not take it.