That the European Commission reportedly bears some suspicion of the strength of press freedom in Turkey is understandable, laudable even. Our own views on this topic are well established. That the commission, as we reported yesterday, plans to hold a May conference on Turkish press freedom is all the more commendable. So is the fact that EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule plans to attend.
We are, however, deeply disturbed by the venue. It is planned for the EU capital. It should be in the capital of assaults on press freedom, Istanbul. Not that a conference in Brussels would be without meaning. Fule, and the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, the Dutch Christian Democratic lawmaker Ria Oomen-Ruijten, have steadily sharpened their tone in recent weeks on concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey. Two Euro-parliament lawmakers from the Liberal Group have recently done so as well; the Netherlands’ Marietje Schaake and Germany’s Alexander Graf Lambsdorff have demanded to know the government’s view on the recent raid to seize an unpublished manuscript from our sister newspaper, Radikal. A broader and deeper understanding of our situation here by the authorities in Brussels is something we would welcome. We realize that a conference of this nature anywhere will be a planning and logistical set piece. Difficult to be sure. But if held in Brussels, it will also risk being a media Potemkin’s Circus. The various actors in this drama, many supported by formidable lobbying resources in Brussels, will mute the affair. A few token critics, a few apologists will assemble and the inadequate media infrastructure that Turkish media institutions maintain in Brussels will try and reflect it back. The conference should be here. Pick a university. Pick a concert hall. While we are not sure of the space and capacity, the Istanbul Press Museum would be a suitable forum. Istanbul’s media may be beleaguered, but it is diverse. From the recently revived pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem to the stridently Islamist Akit to the nationalist Sözcü, there are many voices that the EU needs to hear. And they can only be heard here. In a similar vein, the coverage and treatment of the topics discussed can be far more effectively monitored with an Istanbul conference. The day-after press clippings would be a lesson in and of itself for those at the commission who are concerned. We realize this suggestion poses challenges and inconveniences for officials who face very busy lives. But it is time they come and see and hear and feel the virus of fear that is spreading through the media. As report after report by media watchdogs and EU institutions has made clear, the threats are many and they are real. This is why we advocate a real conference. It can only be real if held in Istanbul. The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.