Is Turkey a land of hell for the press?

Published 02.05.2014 21:58
Updated 05.05.2014 11:45

The government is indignant and the opposition media euphoric about the news that Turkey has been demoted from the "partially free" category to the "not free" category regarding press freedom. The Freedom of the Press 2014 report prepared by the U.S.-based watchdog Freedom House published on May 1 stressed that media freedom around the world hit a decade low and claimed the biggest decline in Europe took place in Turkey. Is Turkey really a land of hell for the press? For the Turkish opposition, this is the case.

This columnist has fought for freedoms in Turkey and opposed military rule for nearly four decades and has lost his newspaper in the process. So no one can really teach us any lessons in the struggle for all kinds of freedoms.

What we see in Turkey is a perennial problem. Yes, Turkey is neither a hell nor a heaven for the press. Yes, there is much freedom of expression in certain areas and quite the opposite in some areas. However, it is a great injustice to place Turkey in a category that befits third world tyrant states.

A person with a bit of sense of justice and remorse who lives in Turkey, a Turk or a foreigner, and follows the press would see that in this country there is a certain section of the media that insults, slanders and harms whomever it wishes.

You only have to be a frequent reader of mass circulation opposition daily Sözcü to see the criticism leveled at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration, you can read many other publications in English that lambast the government and its members.
Think of a prime minister who has been insulted on a routine, daily basis for the past 12 years. Even with a heart of steel he would sooner or later react, especially when his family is also targeted. The opposition put the prime minister in every form. He was even drawn as a monkey in a cartoon. He has been called a tyrant, a dictator and many more things.

Yet, these publications and TV stations are still functioning unhindered. That is only normal in a democracy. Of course if the government agencies are not cooperating with them, and the prime minister disregards them when necessary, then it is only to be expected. The prime minister sues newspapers, TV stations and journalists if he is insulted or belittled. But that is all.

Yes, there are complaints that we also share about press freedom and freedom of expression. We feel at times that because of the intensity of his frustration the prime minister may display reactions that are only human. We feel many people who have deep sympathy for the prime minister and who care to criticize him sincerely are also regarded as antagonists, which is wrong. But when you see the strange winds of change in the media of how the ardent supporters of the prime minister make a U-turn and start lambasting him, then you see why Erdogan is so frustrated and angered.

Journalists who were hailing the prime minister as the greatest person that ever lived are now criticizing him and are going as far as to declare him a tyrant just because the newspaper and TV station they work for has changed its editorial line regarding the government.
A year ago, mass circulation daily Zaman would have targeted everyone for criticizing the prime minister, and yet today they are the leading critics.

One journalist who writes for an English language newspaper and lambasts the prime minister has moderate words for him in the columns he writes in his Turkish language newspaper that is close to the government. Isn't this weird to say the least?
The government moved to free journalists and parliamentarians of Kurdish origin who have been jailed, a move that we have been demanding for ages.

These complications are obstacles in the efforts of the government to turn Turkey into a viable democracy. But that cannot be done when those who oppose the establishment of a new Turkey are still plotting to turn the clock back and return to the old system.

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