May 21, 2015

What is ahead for Turkish media?

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

There is a strange phenomenon that sometimes affects one's mood in which it's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry. There are so many occasions in Turkey in which I experience this exact feeling.

One current tragicomedy serves as a fine example. First President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan protested the death sentence of Mohammed Morsi, ousted president of Egypt. He bemoaned, “They have given a death sentence to a president who received 52 percent of the vote.”

Then Hürriyet daily ran a headline in its coverage, using Erdoğan's words: “They have given a death sentence to a president who received 52 percent of the vote.”

Then guess what happened? President Erdoğan traveled from one city to another, addressing large crowds, declaring that Hürriyet has made him a target, that Hürriyet is implying Erdoğan, who was also elected with 52 percent of the vote, should be ousted and hanged just like Morsi.

Hürriyet, keenly aware of what could happen to anyone in Turkey who is accused like this by President Erdoğan, ran an editorial that fiercely rejected his statements. No matter how hard they tried to explain that they did not imply anything sinister, Hürriyet had already become a part of Erdoğan's endless “us-versus-them” campaigns in which he always plays the role of the victim.

As if this were not enough, a lawyer has sued Hürriyet for its supposed targeting of Erdoğan with the aforementioned headline. I do not know how the legal system will react to this case.

Speaking of legal cases, I suppose you already know that the office of the chief prosecutor sent a letter to the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications requesting the prevention of certain critical media from using the state's communication infrastructure. Since there are no satellites other than those belonging to the state, the prosecutor's request was effectively seeking the closure of many TV channels. The prosecutor said these TV channels and newspapers gave coverage to the messages of Fethullah Gülen, who according to him, is the leader of a terrorist organization.

Is it a coincidence that there are only few TV channels remaining in Turkey on which members of opposition parties can appear and explain their views? Most of these channels are the ones this prosecutor wants to close down.

It is fascinating that we are not talking about a prosecutor's “crazy indictment” in which he requested the court to close down TV channels. What we are talking about is a request, which bypassed the whole legal system, from a prosecutor who put himself in the position of the court. If today a prosecutor can try to close down TV channels without seeking a judgment from a court, the same prosecutor could decide to try to arrest people without having a warrant from a court. We are in a poor, lawless situation here.

And this request comes from a prosecutor who works for a newly established unit of the Bureau for Crimes Against the Constitutional Order. The prosecutor may have forgotten that the number one component of the constitutional order is that only the courts can limit fundamental freedoms.

These are only a few signs of what is ahead for the media in Turkey if the ruling party maintains its strong position in the coming elections. If it does, there will not be any independent media left.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 May 2015, Thursday