The recent report from Freedom House that downgraded the Turkish press from "partly free" to "not free" has once again brought the hotly debated topic to the top of the agenda.
The opposition has jumped on the argument to substantiate its theory that the government curtails freedoms. The target is Erdoğan. They aim to create a perception that the prime minister restricts freedoms in Turkey. The ones who assert there is no press freedom in Turkey rely on the speculation that no one can criticize Erdoğan. In return, Erdoğan defends himself by saying "Whoever says there is not press freedom in Turkey, let him take all national daily newspapers and have a look at their headlines."
Erdoğan is not that unrighteous. Turkish media has a polyphonic nature. In this wide range, there are a number of newspapers and television channels that have turned their chronic anti-Erdoğan attitude into a tradition of broadcasting. Among these is a magazine that pictures Erdoğan on the gallows on its front cover and says he must be executed. Just a week ago, a national newspaper openly used the word "murderer" for Erdoğan on its headline.
A columnist of the one of the most wellread newspapers in the country overtly insulted Erdoğan and his family, but then he became a member of parliament from the main opposition party.
Similarly, a favored columnist of the same persuasion has written about Erdoğan's tomb and how it would be treated. Erdoğan rightfully thinks that he constantly suffers an affront. That is why he rallies against the allegations that Turkish press is not free.
In reality, the debate over press freedom in Turkey has some historical background.
The media has never been completely free during the history of the Republic.
This is because masters of the mainstream media voluntarily engaged in ideological, political and economical relations with the state and system.
Throughout the history of the Republic, the media has considered itself as part and parcel of the ideological, political and economical system. The media has functioned as a player of certain roles that was cast for it. It was used as an instrument by media bosses to establish relations with the state and the establishment.
It did not question miscues of the system and was turned into a means of propaganda to maintain the same structure. The organic bond it established with the Kemalist ideology was the main reason why the mainstream media failed to voice criticism against the state. Generally speaking, the mainstream media always looked at the tension between society and state from the state's perspective. It kept a distance with the man on the street.
In the recent past, which was dominated by the military tutelage, the media targeted politicians who were left with no choice but to resign.
It sided against the same social section which was introduced as an internal threat by the system.
The media played a dominant role with its fallacious news during the "postmodern coup" of Feb. 28, 1997. It never objected to the military's criticisms against the writers and news outlets. Due to controversial publications, some celebrities had to leave the country. Deportation of Ahmet Kaya was fueled by the provocative headlines of certain newspapers. Similarly, the process that resulted in assassination of Hrant Dink was stimulated by some expressions of the central media. It is possible to multiply the examples which were experienced in the past and are never criticized today, although the military tutelage is now over.
Press freedom debates that could not be put into words in the past, are now raised at the moment. However they are not initiated to provide a literal press freedom, but to restrict the scope of legitimate and democratic politics. In other words, the media is being turned into an instrument yet again. Two years ago, the chief editor of a newspaper who was putting headlines that proposed the arrest of journalists now claims that there is no press freedom in Turkey.
A media group that tried to correlate various crimes with journalists to have them be convicted just in 2011, talk pretentiously about the lack of press freedom.
Broadcasting policies and the recent past of the mainstream media is full of offences concerning freedoms. These incoherencies obstruct carrying out reasonable debates of press freedom.
People are taking notice of sincerity while evaluating the arguments.
If there is no consistence between your words and your actions, your sphere of influence gets narrower. That is why those who allege that alarm bells are ringing for press freedom have no credibility in the eyes of the public.