December 16, 2014

Free Media Cannot be silenced

Begüm Burak

The detention of the journalists was a “black day for democracy” for Zaman, in contrast to pro-government Star's headline saying “their caves have been entered”

Turkey since the inception of the Republic has witnessed a bizarre oscillation between military coups and democratic politics. The 1960 coup, the 1971 memorandum, the 1980 coup, the ‘post-modern’ coup staged in 1997 and the e-memorandum issued in 2007 can all be treated as major blows to democracy and freedom. The intelligentsia close to political authority and the pro-government media outlets have added a brand new form of coup (!) to the list last year. The pro-government media represented the corruption and graft probe which became public in December 17 2013 as a ‘judiciary coup’ staged by the external and internal enemies of the government. Since the end of 2013, the Hizmet movement has been stigmatized as a ‘parallel state’ and almost all of the institutions affiliated with Hizmet have been made a scapegoat for any criminal activity happened so far in Turkey.

Lately, the two leading media outlets of Turkey namely the Zaman and Samanyolu Media Groups have been raided by the police. The chief editor of Turkey’s best-selling daily Zaman Ekrem Dumanlı and the General Manager of Samanyolu Media Group Hidayet Karaca have been detained early in Sunday morning. Thousands of people protested the arrests in front of Zaman's headquarters holding posters saying, “Free media cannot be silenced.”

The International Press Institute and other leading NGOs all condemned state authorities’ raids on media outlets. The foreign media has presented the developments as an effort of the state officials to oppress the critical media. IPI’s Turkish National Committee said that the raids were “yet another sign that striking a blow against the freedom of the press in order to solve a political problem has become a tradition in Turkey”. By contrast, President Erdoğan said that the raids have nothing to do with press freedom. “We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your wisdom to yourself” Erdoğan said.

The role of the free press for a functioning democracy has been emphasized centuries ago when the Enlightenment theorists had argued that openness is the best protection against tyranny. Amartya Sen (1999) states that democracy is a demanding system, not just a mechanical condition like majority rule taken in isolation. Democracy requires the active participation of citizens. In this sense, the media aim at making the citizens conscious to provide their active participation in policy-making.

What is going on today has nothing to contribute to democracy and rule of law. Tragically, some academics, journalists and intellectuals still evaluate this scene as a fight between the tutelary regime of the ‘old Turkey’ and democracy for the ‘new Turkey’. To make a long story short, truth cannot be hidden forever. The veils of secrecy put upon all the illegitimate and illegal activities will be removed one day. I hope the actors of the ‘new Turkey’ can become aware of this as soon as possible and restore democracy and justice.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 December 2014, Tuesday