Some critics argued that Davutoğlu's visit to this Asian country was untimely as there have been serious developments taking place in neighboring Syria, where the battle between the Bashar al-Assad regime forces and the opposition has intensified. According to critics, the foreign minister should have stayed in town to watch closely the developments in Turkey's environs.
While some others criticized Davutoğlu over the failure of his policies pursued on countries such as Iran and Syria and questioned his success in saving Myanmar Muslims from persecution. Some conservative columnists, meanwhile, criticized Davutoğlu for also visiting Buddhist camps while they said it has been the Buddhist majority that oppressed the Myanmar Muslims.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted sharply this past week to criticisms leveled against his minister. If he were the owner of those dailies he would not have allowed such journalists to criticize Davutoğlu in this manner or to work for these media groups, Erdoğan said, exerting explicit pressure on the media owners. With very few exceptions, the majority of the media owners involved in state contracts will always get the message relayed by Erdoğan or the prime minister in power. In fact, Erdoğan's message unfortunately found its response when, for example, Radikal daily sacked one of its columnists immediately after his critical remarks about Davutoğlu's visit to Myanmar. Some others, however, still retain their positions, but there is no guarantee they will keep their posts after Erdoğan's strong criticism. Or the dailies will use the governing party's criticism of journalists as an excuse to sack the same journalists they have previously sought to get rid of.
Erdoğan is the most powerful Turkish leader since Turkey's founder Kemal Atatürk. He, as prime minister, and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have led Turkey since 2003. The AK Party under Erdoğan is known to have been the driving force behind the major military and civilian reforms initiated in 2003 and 2004. As a result of these reforms, the military's power in politics is curbed while serious restrictions on all forms of freedoms have been relaxed. But as Erdoğan and his party consolidated their power over the years as his party, for example, won an almost 50 percent of the votes in June this year, he has begun pursuing authoritarian policies, leaving behind his reformist stance, while exerting pressure on those segments of the society who are critical of the increased violations of human rights.
Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Turkey, who earlier drew criticism of Erdoğan when he publicly expressed his disapproval over the arrest of journalists as part of an alleged military coup investigation -- who he said should freely express their opinions -- reaffirmed his position against restrictions to be imposed on the media during his meeting at his residence in Ankara on Tuesday, August 14.
"One of the basic areas that Turkey should attach importance to is in the area of freedom of expression. If Turkey improves its democratic standards, it has to be careful not to restrict freedom of expression," US Ambassador Ricciardone stated.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in İstanbul last Saturday, during which she discussed developments in Syria with Turkish leaders. Ricciardone said Clinton is deeply interested in the issue of freedom of expression and she made her concerns clear to the Turkish side in a polite and positive manner. The US ambassador also drew attention in his meeting with the Turkish media last Tuesday on fair trial principles. Turkey has come under criticism over violating fair trial principles during legal proceedings.
Ricciardone also highlighted that those who express opinions should not be put behind bars.
I am of the opinion that, at the end of the day, Prime Minister Erdoğan's slander campaign that he has initiated against journalists is not acceptable. What is also unacceptable is the state of some Turkish media organizations, which allow their media owners to bow to the pressures of political authorities. Similarly, some media organizations and their columnists most of the time fail to abide by universal ethic principles set forth for the media, such as respect for privacy. Some journalists, for example, do not see any problem in running stories that target a certain ethnic group.
The Turkish media needs to join forces against pressures they face either from their owners or from the political leaders in order not to become vulnerable to outside pressures that can result in journalists losing their jobs. In addition, there is a strong need for the media to abide by the universal principles of media ethics.