Freedom House's report on Turkey 'unfair'

Monday, February 17, 2014

Freedom House released its 2014 report, where Turkey is shown as

Freedom House released its 2014 report, where Turkey is shown as "partly free," but political analysts think "the report is unfair."

By M. Bilal Kenasari

ANKARA - The Freedom House report of political and civil liberties in Turkey is unfair, and remains far from understanding the social reality and the media's position, according to Markar Esayan, a columnist at the Turkish daily Yeni Safak.

He said the West often showed that Turkish media is forced to support the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, however, there are 19 dailies supporting opposition parties while only nine dailies back the government.

Esayan said that it is often shown by the West that almost all of the Turkish media backs the AK Party, but "if you look at the newspapers, 70 percent of them are pro-opposition, while only 30 percent are pro-government."

"The reports are unfair," said Esayan, as mainstream Western analysis look at Turkey from a "very narrow perspective."

"Turkey should create its own criteria while judging the political and civil liberties in Turkish society, rather than acting on how foreign institutions grade freedom in Turkey," said Professor Macit Kenanoglu, the dean at the Department of Law at Sehir University, Istanbul, when speaking about the U.S.-based Freedom House 2014 report describing Turkey as a 'partly free' country.

The U.S.-based independent watchdog organization Freedom House grades a country's level of freedom into three categories; 'Free country', is one where there is a broad scope for open political competition where a climate of respect for civil liberties exists and where there is a significant independence in media and in civic life.

'Partly free' countries are characterized by some restrictions on political rights and civil liberties, often in the context of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic strife or civil war.

A 'not free country' is one where, basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.

"We have to have our own targets regarding the improvement of standards of freedom as a nation with its own sociological and political dynamics, independent from other countries comments," said Kenanoglu.

Apart from Freedom House’s report, Amnesty International (AI) on Wednesday expressed concern about the treatment of journalists by the government, while last week Reporters Without Borders described Turkey as "the biggest prison in the world for journalists."

Amnesty International criticized the Turkish government’s approach to Gezi Park protests, as "an unnecessary and abusive force against peaceful demonstrators." It is also concerned over freedom of speech in Turkey and maintains that the "government attempts to silence journalists also."

Kenanoglu emphasized the one-sided nature of Western institutions in evaluating developments in countries like Turkey, and cited the minor attention paid to the Hamburg police violence against protesters in Germany.

Prof. Kenanoglu said, “There is no point in comparing the U.S. or the Western coverage of Turkey’s Gezi protests against the Hamburg unrest, as there is no expectation of objectivity from them."

The Hamburg demonstrations followed heavy clashes on December 21 over the eviction of activitsts in a left wing cultural center in the city. Around 7,000 people protested against the eviction of the activists who occupied the cultural center since 1989 and served as a meeting point for them in Hamburg. 70 police officers and a number of protesters were injured in the violence.

"I don’t really think they understand the media’s position in Turkey, as it plays an essential roles behind military coups," he said criticizing the binary results of the reports. "They are far from the reality of Turkish sociology," he added,

"They always use the same source, like after December 17 anti-graft operations, they always cite the same sources, as they only see one side of the coin."

"The media has a problematic position in Turkey as criticism becomes functional only if it wears out the government," he said.

However, he added that, "this functionality can vary”, as until recently, the media of the Hizmet movement, led by Fethullah Gulen -- an influential Islamic scholar self-exiled in the U.S.

Esayan said Gulen "was referring to journalists in prison as not imprisoned journalists but as pro-coup elements," however, he added that due to Gulen's fight with the government, their stance has changed and the so-called 'pro-coup elments' which they opposed are now part of the journalists "victimized by the government."

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