November 11, 2015

Before it’s too late

Yavuz Baydar

As the "democratic community" in the world watches with "the silence of the lambs," power concentrated in the hands of a few individuals continues to bash, limit, eviscerate and suffocate the independent media -- the main source of objective, impartial, factual and critical information about the country in general.

Two days ago Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had to answer a rather timid question (without a bold follow-up) by CNN's Christiane Amanpour on the geometrically escalating cabin pressure for journalism in his country.

''I was a columnist in the 1990s when I was in academic life. So freedom of the press and intellectual freedom are redlines for me,” Davutoğlu said. “If there's an attack on any intellectual or columnist or journalist, I will be the advocate of that. I can assure you this.”

He is victorious and backed by populist arguments with 49 percent of the vote behind him, but the burning question we may pose to Davutoğlu is whether he is really sincere in his "assurance" that critical journalism and dissenting expression will be allowed in his country.

If most of the people here or elsewhere scoff at his pledge, they may be right. In later years, Davutoğlu has not really distinguished himself as a devotee of speaking truthfully.

Who knows, maybe this time he can surprise us all?

The bitter irony, just as a reminder, is this: The day after this pledge, we learned that Cengiz Çandar, a well-known colleague, has joined the list of those who are being investigated for seven of his articles (written between July 26 and Aug. 19) on charges of "insulting the president." Ahmet Altan, another world-renowned author and columnist, had to appear in court, on similar charges, to give a defense statement.

Some reports say that a new wave of operations will be under way "in some weeks" to seize some more large media outlets, including this newspaper, under the pretext that it is "aiding and abetting terrorism." The unacceptable accreditation ban of dailies Zaman and Sözcü, to cover the G-20 summit is also seen by observers as a sign of a major new clampdown approaching.

What's seen as a disappointment among the colleagues I talked to in the squeezed media outlets -- such as Cumhuriyet, Zaman, T24 and Taraf -- is the apparent and disturbing timidity of the EU in its latest Progress Report over the backsliding of media freedom and independence in Turkey.

''After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years, with some level of preparation in this field," the report said.

''Ongoing and new criminal cases against journalists, writers or social media users, intimidation of journalists and media outlets as well as the authorities' actions curtailing freedom of media are of considerable concern. Changes to the internet law are a significant step back from European standards.''

It is very obvious that the EU, blinded by the "refugee flow" into its territory, has stepped back "considerably" from its principled stand on the delivery of spot-on judgments and is damaging its credibility. Most of the "findings" and assessments in the report regarding basic rights and freedoms leave one with the sense of understatements, unfortunately.

''Newspapers are being seized, journalists are being intimidated and fired from their jobs but what action is the EU taking?'' Amanda Paul asked in this newspaper.

''A dark black cloak has fallen over the country and unfortunately this situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The EU must speak up and speak up loudly over what is happening.''

I, as a media professional who had been ripped away from a column -- and a main source of income -- after the seizure of İpek Media Group, spoke up last week in Brussels, in defense of our profession soon to be extinct, telling a large crowd, among them top EU figures, like it is.

All in vain? I do hope not.

But know this: When this newspaper -- a bold, liberal voice of Turkey to the world, among others -- is soon relegated to silence, the world will then realize the value of an independent, fair source of information and diverse scope of its comment.

Then, sadly, it will be too late.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 November 2015, Wednesday