My comment, TZ: Erdoğan vs Twitter

At the moment, it is like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vs. the rest of the world. Not really there yet but, by any account, almost.
The motto is: In order to advance further, you must detect or create enemies, however questionable, and attack them relentlessly.

The new enemy at home, the enemy “personified,” is Mr. Haşim Kılıç, a liberal judge and the president of the Constitutional Court. The reason is well-known by now: The top court issued a ruling stating that the Twitter ban was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

Such a daredevil act was, no doubt, interpreted as an open challenge to the prime minister, who these days considers everything in the light of the 45 percent of the vote he won on March 30.

Compared to this legitimacy granted by “my voters,” as he calls them, everything is secondary — particularly the law. Thus, the call on Saturday, sending a subtle message to Kılıç: “take off your [judge’s] robe off [and join politics].”

Kılıç is used to this. Ever since he was appointed by former Turkish President Turgut Özal to the top court in 1990, he has been constantly targeted by the Kemalist establishment and militarist segments of the media and faced smear campaigns due to his “pious/liberal” identity.

The new enemy abroad — replacing the vague “chaos,” “robot lobbies or “global assassins” — is more concrete: Twitter.

As a company, that is.

“Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money,” he said to loud cheers at a rally. “Twitter is also a tax evader. We will go after it. These companies, like every international company, will abide by my country’s constitution, laws and tax rules.”

Twitter executives are expected to be in Ankara today, discussing the issues and possibly facing a series of demands that will have to do with the personal integrity and privacy of its millions of users. According to a study by eMarketer, Turks top the world in Twitter penetration, with 31 percent of the total Internet users in Turkey being Twitter users, followed by Japan and the Netherlands.

The Twitter executives’ visit to Ankara takes place as the YouTube ban continues into its third week, with the government clearly defying the precedent nature of the top court’s pro-freedom ruling.

In many senses, Erdoğan’s post-March 30 multi-frontal battle to expand his power base is a destructive one — and in the long run, rather hopeless.

Let us leave aside the demonization of the top court, since it is obvious that whatever Parliament passes in terms of controversial bills to enhance the ground for one-man rule will be dealt with by it, so I have reason to come back to the issue. ok

The Twitter controversy and YouTube ban takes place as Turkey celebrates the 21th anniversary of its Internet use. Even a swift look into the past two decades is enough to show how welcoming the Turkish society and its new generations have been to whatever it has offered.

Internet penetration in Turkey is almost 50 percent. In urban areas, it is around 75 percent. According to data compiled by AlJazeera, of the 35+ million internet users in Turkey — out of a national population of 74 million — 94 percent are Facebook users. Twitter user figures are almost at the 10 million mark. In social media in general, Turks are in the top 10 global standings, and rising fast. A total of 73 percent use the Internet for social networking while 75.5 percent read news-related content; 24 percent use it for commerce.

Given the state of Turkey in the global system, economically and socially, it is apparent that the majority of Turkish society sees the Internet as a great opportunity. Yet Erdoğan, now aggressively adopting all the tutelary reflexes of the old Kemalist tradition, sees it as a huge threat.

The 21-year history exposes how the Turkish leadership is torn between two sides: On one side, its support for progress had led to a geometric rise in Internet usage and on the other, there is a fear of citizens’ right to exercise freedoms through communications, by implementing a law that has severely grave flaws in its text – such as the clause about defamation involving Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the use of the term “obscenity” instead of “pornography.”

You can ban the Internet, but at your own peril. In Turkey, it also has the risk of turning you into laughing stock.

Did you know that although YouTube has been banned for two weeks, it is fully accessible here through iPhone and iPad apps?

One can only smile.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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