If Turkey lacks press freedom, why is this column appearing?

Isn’t it funny: Now that Turkey has almost finished its “political spring »»

Isn’t it funny: Now that Turkey has almost finished its “political spring cleaning” by throwing out of the house the old and unwanted (think of all forms of tutelage, coup plotters et al.) and welcoming in the new, which translates into building a full-fledged civic society, some professional Turkey bashers both at home as well as abroad continue to complain about a suggested decrease of civil liberties.

They mostly quote two recent domestic developments (one correctly observed and much appreciated, one entirely dreamed up) as justification for their argument: first, the number of court orders and arrests concerning alleged members of a far-reaching cobweb-like shady underground network (at times “over-ground” and rather visible, too) commonly referred to as Ergenekon, and second, a decline in freedoms linked to the press and media in general.

Let me be frank: If there is a problem with the state of affairs regarding press freedom in Turkey, this and many other columns I have taken the liberty to pen for our newspaper would have never reached the newsagents nor even come close to the printer’s desk. I challenge the (past) status quo, write against military or any other tutelage and speak up against anyone who wants to see tanks rolling down my Turkish high street. I am so against our children being misused as extras for dignitaries applauding themselves (think May 19, kids’ untoward involvement in football stadiums). So who is right, wrong? Is there a problem with what a Turkish journalist or columnist can write about or not?

Every newspaper I have come across so far either here or, for example, in England will have an editor and an editorial line that defines a certain direction of the paper. Hence, contributing writers will most likely opt for a newspaper that mirrors their own intellectual and topical preferences. This is not anti-democratic but part of democracy itself -- newspapers may be left, right, liberal or apolitical. That is diversity, democracy.

The Turkish government imposes censorship on the Turkish media -- this is what some want us to believe. Taking a look at newspapers such as Sözcü or, at times, even normally more moderate Vatan underlines my assumption. If Turkey is banning newspapers critical of the governing party, these newspapers would not hit the newsstands. Then, there is of course the “mainstream” Hürriyet, most definitely not a pro-government paper, either. If newspapers are not your thing, switch on the television and scan those channels that openly oppose all things reform process or Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Are they censored? Are they banned? Are these journalists or anchormen under observation, or are their jobs at risk? Of course not.

Actually, looking back three or four years, it was rather those writers who openly support today’s Turkey who were unfairly criticized, including this contributor. I never engaged in debates over childish comments that were directed at me, in particular because the vast majority of the Turkish people apparently fully supported and continue to support today’s national government. The majority of media outlets were anti-civil society, not the Turkish people, who so overwhelmingly spoke up in November of 2002.

I draw a clear line, though. If a writer openly promotes terror, including coups, the toppling of a democratically elected government or incites hatred, for example, against citizens who have a different dress code from the writer, this does not constitute freedom of the press but merits a criminal investigation. Period.

I was recently asked by a Turkish mayor to bring more international journalists to his town so they could check for themselves out how Turkish “after 2002” civil society works in practice. I will try my best to do just that, but in line with what I wrote about Turkish newspapers, I feel tempted to include a few Turkish colleagues in that event, too. If after having met with some of the city’s 28 (!) daily and weekly newspapers (not counting the national broadsheets) and if they then continue to lament a lack of media liberties in Turkey, I shall rest my case. Not that this is the expected outcome, though!