One of the conclusions of the 27th Abant meeting, which brought together foreign and domestic academics and journalists living in Turkey, was that Turkey’s democracy needs to be more consolidated for it to be more effective in the world and for it to be a role model in its region.
Our democracy [in Turkey] has not been consolidated. For that to happen, we should have reached a place where minority rights have been granted, where Alevi rights have been granted, etc.
Bulent Kenes, editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman
The 27th Abant meeting, titled “Different Perspectives on Turkey,” was organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) on June 22-24, 2012, in the Turkish province of Bolu.
“The perception of Turkey as a role model in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region is related to its economic success and also political developments. Its ability to carry out this role will also depend on its success in democratization,” stated the final declaration of the meeting.
The five sessions at the Abant meeting – democratization, foreign policy and the Middle East, EU accession, economic development, and media – are designed to allow for open discussions, rather than expert panels, about the issues at the top of Turkey’s agenda.
The last session on Sunday was focused on the media. Jenny White of Boston University opened the debate by pointing out the media’s role and asking if the media is a force to encourage democratization or vice versa.
Freelance journalist Claire Berlinski said that in her seven years in Turkey, she has yet to meet anyone who trusts that the news in the Turkish media tells the truth. Her words drew reactions from some of the participants. Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bulent Kenes said making such broad generalizations would be a mistake. Fatih University’s Ihsan Yilmaz said the trust issue is a concern all over the world and is not specific to the Turkish media, as countries that are champions of free speech in the media also have problems in that regard.
There were others who said the issue should be a concern for the Turkish media no matter how big or small the problem is because it would be wrong to think that if others do it, we can do it as well.
Another issue that was highlighted was the ownership and concentration of news outlets in the hands of businesspeople.
The issue of imprisoned journalists was also a matter of debate. Cafer Solgun of the Confrontation Association said the problem related to freedom of speech is not a new phenomenon in Turkey and that in the past journalists were imprisoned because of their perceived relation to communism. He also said government officials point out that there are no journalists imprisoned because of their journalistic practices but because of their ties with terrorist organizations. “If we believe this, there are no journalists in prison,” he said.
The final declaration of the Abant meeting highlighted all the issues debated over the three days.