October 8, 2015

Terrorism through cartoons

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

I have just unsubscribed from the Digitürk TV cable network, of which I have been a member for many years. When I heard that Tivibu, an online streaming service, dropped Bugün TV, Samanyolu TV and other channels because of their affiliation with the Hizmet movement, it came as just news for me, albeit bad news.

Yesterday, I learned that Digitürk did the same. They removed these TV channels from their package. I checked in the morning and saw that all those TV channels were gone, replaced by some other channels. This time it was not just news for me but an intrusion into my personal life.

Digitürk announced that it dropped these channels on the request of the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office. It even dropped Yumurcak TV, which airs only cartoons for young children. My 2-year-old son, Cem Ege, was watching Caillou in Turkish on TV all the time. We did not know that our little son was watching terrorist propaganda!

Well, this is not a good feeling -- a government reaching into your room through an order of a prosecutor. Do I need to make a lengthy statement about the arbitrariness and unlawfulness of this intrusion into our lives?

Digitürk did not publish a copy of the request from the prosecutor. But it is not difficult to guess what it said. It basically said these TV channels disseminate terrorist propaganda and you should stop carrying them.

I am sure Digitürk has its own lawyers and any lawyer with even the most minimal knowledge should be able to tell it that no prosecutor can give such an order, as freedoms can only be limited by the decision of a court.

So Digitürk was very much willing to conform to the will of the prosecutor and the government because, unsurprisingly, its shares were bought by companies very close to the government.

This arbitrary interference made me angry, but it has much wider significance for the political atmosphere in Turkey. These channels that Tivibu and Digitürk removed from their lineup are almost the last ones on which you can hear the voices of members of opposition parties. Tivibu has 1.6 million subscribers and Digitürk 2.7 million. These people will now have quite limited access to the arguments of the opposition parties.

These facts alone show us how fair and free the election we will have on Nov. 1 will be.

Well, I unsubscribed from Digitürk and I wish that many others will do the same. However, the decisive message can only be given at the ballot box for these authoritarian interferences in freedom of expression. But there is a paradox here: The more they interfere, the fewer alternatives people have to receive impartial and fair news.

If there is no free media, can we talk about free elections?

Published on Today's Zaman, 8 October 2015, Thursday