November 15, 2015

Kinzer on Turkey’s media crackdown, ‘This story is not over’

Former New York Times İstanbul Bureau Chief Stephen Kinzer has struck an optimistic note on the struggle of Turkish journalists and activists to uphold free speech in Turkey, saying that the ongoing dire situation is not permanent.

"This story is not over," Kinzer said at a symposium in Boston College on Saturday, although the country's press is going through "bad times" these days. He said Turkish journalists are working against all odds.

Kinzer was speaking at a conference on press freedom, where he said because of the vibrancy of Turkish society the struggle for press freedom is not dead. He said there had been a definite regression in press freedom in the country, but that it is not permanent.

According to Kinzer, press freedom is an outcome of the broader development of freedom in a country and is closely intertwined with freedoms in other areas. He mentioned he keeps a sign in his room that he brandished during a media freedom march in İstanbul in 2010, which reads "Sustum, sıra bana geldi" -- I kept silent and I'm next. The sign criticizes media workers who kept silent when there was an ongoing crackdown on other rival media groups.

When asked why the US has had a muted reaction to Turkey's press freedom violations, Kinzer said geopolitical concerns play a big role in Washington's decision in this respect. He said he is aware of a debate within the US State Department where some diplomats are clamoring for a stronger US position on press freedom. He said that others claim that it is more important for the US to maintain relations with the Turkish government because of the ongoing refugee crisis and turmoil in the region than to raise concerns over press freedom.

Not a world I dreamed of

In an emotional appeal at a symposium, Hasan Cemal, a veteran Turkish journalist, said the country he is living in is not the one he dreamed of.

He said he is 71 years old and has been an active journalist for 47 years. "I have witnessed military coups. I have seen my newspaper being shut down several times. I have lost friends to political murders. Many of my colleagues spent time in prison, many were subject to torture," Cemal said.

But the heartache he felt last month was like "none I had felt before."

"I witnessed a television station (Bugün TV) and two dailies (Bugün and Millet) raided by order of the state."

Just days before the Nov. 1 election, İpek Media Group was raided by police and the authorities took over five media outlets.

"On that day, the legal system was razed to the ground. Freedom was desecrated. Media independence was held in complete disdain. The right to property was hijacked," Cemal said. He said they wanted to silence journalists and cast a shadow over their world.

"I do not want to live in a world where newspapers and television stations are so shamelessly terrorized by state pressure; I do not want to live in a world subservient to despotism," Cemal said, adding that there is no place for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or more accurately, for the sultan in the palace.

The veteran journalist describes Erdoğan as "a tyrant" who is in love with his own voice and silences the voices of opposition and criticism "in a planned and systematic way."

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 15 November 2015, Sunday