Kader Sevinc - Smart Democracy & Smart Citizenship

Mr. Oktay Ekşi, honorary chief editor of large selling daily Hürriyet, used to be one the most senior political columnists in Turkey..until he was forced to resign from Hürriyet. His crime? He was no longer relevant? His readership declined? Contractual disputes? No, in an article about which he later apologized, he wrote that AKP deputies “would sell their mothers…” a gross insult in the Turkish culture, no matter in which context it is used.

Ethics demands that he resign, and so he did. AKP deputies would be justified to seek redress in courts. Matter closed!. No, the article allowed PM Erdogan to launch one of the scariest witch-hunts on the aging columnist. Erdogan wowed “to fight people like this..no matter what it takes..They’ll see what I can do”. On Tuesday, in his parliamentary caucus speech, he called on the media “to expel this man..” He added that the independent press council should fire him from his post as honorary chairman.

Had this been an isolated incident of outrage, Mr. Erdogan could be excused for flying off the handle. We all have mothers and we do get out of hand, when they are insulted. Firstly, he has no right to act indignant. He is the one who introduced mothers into the political literature, by screaming at a protester at a rally “Take your mother and leave the country”, no less an insult than the one Mr. Ekşi used. PM Erdogan had in the past asked for the removal of Mssrs. Emin Çölaşan, Bekir Coşkun (from two newspapers, now) and allegedly Sedat Ergin and Ertugrul Özkök, who remained with their respective newspapers, but lost their Editor-in-Chief positions. He threatened to hold the media bosses responsible, if the “culprits” aren’t dealt with at once. It takes a very brave columnist, born to heroic mothers to criticize Mr. Erdogan now. It needs to be noted that all these authors cited above worked for Dogan Group of newspapers, which is incidentally being dragged from court to court because of tax evasion “discovered” in retroactive audits to the tune TL3.5 billion.

One might argue that Mr. Erdogan is sentimental and rather old-fashioned, not tolerant of foul language in Turkish press. This portrayal would still not exactly square with press freedoms, but it would be at least equitable. Equal punishment for equal crimes. This is not so.

On Tuesday night, private TV broadcaster ATV, owned by Calik Group, where Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law has a top level managerial position, ran a cartoon of CHP leader Mr. Kılıçdaroglu, dressed as a belly dancer. The caption was a multiple choice question:

Which of the below describes Mr. Kilicdaroglu?

Belly dancer?

Foul-mouthed

Boycott-prone? (suggesting he refuses to shake hands with turban wearing women)

All of the above?

Dressing Mr. Kılıcdaroğlu as a woman is not a sexual innuendo, but a suggestion that he is wishy-washy. The sketch artist is Mr. Salih Memecan, whose wife is incidentally an AKP deputy. Has Mr Erdogan scolded Mr Memecan? Nope!!! Funny isn’t, how press freedom works in Turkey? It is very much like Animal Farm. All newspapers are equal, only some more so. If you adulate Mr. Erdogan and pen glowing commentaries on AKP’s policies, you can get way with murder. If you dare to criticize Mr. Erdogan, well, you are lucky if you can get away with our life.

Mr Atilla Yeşilada, a columnist himself, is not a member of CHP and expresses his personal opinions.

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