Freedom of expression and press freedom, together with supremacy and independence of justice are among the main pillars of democratic governance.
Without free debate, the media reporting pros and cons of national, international developments, transparency in governance, fight against corruption, favouritism, nepotism there cannot be good democratic governance. Free press and liberal debate atmosphere in a country is a sine qua non of the public acquiring the capability of developing informed choice and in the absence of informed choice representative democracy is compelled to remain deficient. That’s indeed why freedom of press is not a right for the media only but it is a fundamental democratic right safeguarded not only in national charters but also by international conventions.
This week President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has unveiled the election manifesto of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) swearing to correct everything that he and his party failed to achieve over the past 16 years. He wowed to stick to free market economy but to take bank interest rates under control. He wowed to advance rights and liberties in the country but did not hesitate a moment from ridiculing the gender of the Good Party (İYİ) leader and presidential candidate Meral Akşener.
It is often said that in the Ottoman times, a vizier in charge of education had said “Being an education minister is no difficult task if there were no schools.” Turkey must have been passing through a similar odd period that while free market economy and independence of the Central Bank and its financial instruments are maintained, interest rates, exchange rates and all other probable indicators of an economy running wild are wanted to be designed in a fashion serving the expectations of the president.
Pledging to advance rights and liberties deserve praise particularly if it comes from a personality who over the years never ever compromised in interference in any area provided his interests are compromised. Yet, even if it is apparent that advancement of rights and liberties might be a pledge as valid as the value of the paper scriptwriters wrote them for the almighty leader, feeling the need of emphasizing them demonstrate a degree of awareness that Turkey is not a country that can turn its back to norms and values of Europe. The wows of the president, indeed, demonstrated that there is still hope Turkey can be rescued and redirected from becoming the third leg of the so-called Turkey-Azerbaijan-Russia “authoritarian democracy” model.
What is “authoritarian democracy” or what might be the fundamental aspect of a “democracy with a semi-god”? Can there be individual or communal rights in a “democracy” designed to serve an absolute leader? That’s where Turkey, like Russia and Azerbaijan, part from the rest of the world that claimed to adhere to democratic governance.
Perhaps I should not go further but present a summarized version of the speech of Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament (EP), at a Turkey special conference held at the EP on the World Press Freedom Day. I was among the very few journalists from Turkey participating that conference as part of an Association of Journalists delegation, most of the people were either representatives of some Turkish NGOs, or Turkish journalists living abroad. There must be no need to explain why so many Turkish journalists have decided to live abroad.
Tajani stressed at his speech “as a former journalist, I know that being able to work independently is essential. Without this freedom, there cannot be political scrutiny, transparency, fight against corruption, good governance, freedom of choice.” Does Turkey need political scrutiny, transparency, fight against corruption, good governance or an atmosphere of free speech?
Of course, not only in authoritarian countries but also in “semi democracies” journalists, intellectuals, political opponents might face the risk of imprisonment, worse, exile. In Europe, too, there are countries with problematic performances regarding rights. European Union must as well find ways of bypassing “solidarity” and other chains and effectively act on such unacceptable breach of norms and values that indeed constitute the backbone of what we call Western civilization.
In any way it might be put, any local or international organization, big or small, describing Turkey, as the “biggest open-air prison for journalists” cannot be a pleasing development for anyone. Turkey capturing the championship in lists of countries where rights were curtailed cannot be acceptable. There can be no democracy without press freedom. To claim the contrary, wows will not suffice to escape from being mercilessly scorned.