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    Wise words from top judge Haşim Kılıç

    Hürriyet Haber
    28.04.2009 - 00:00 | Son Güncelleme:

    It is rare for a newspaper to react warmly to harsh criticism of the press. In a guarded way, however, we welcome the comments last Friday by the head of the Constitutional Court, Haşim Kılıç.

    <ı>Of course we are uncomfortable when any member of the government or the judiciary deigns to issue thoughts on how the press should perform its job. We are rather protective of our independence and the body of legal and social safeguards that serve this independence. We are rather serious advocates of freedom of the press and speech. This requires us to defend even speech that we do not like. Guarantees of press freedom do not just serve the best in our profession, they also serve the worst. Government tutelage, sanctions, licensing or attempts at control through credentialing are most unwelcome. It is readers who can and must demand standards and responsibility and it is to them alone that we are accountable.

    That said, we salute the principled statement of Justice Kılıç: "People’s honors are harmed when they are announced guilty without the court’s decision." This was, of course, a clear reference to the ongoing Ergenekon case. But the observation could be applied to many situations in Turkey. We are serious believers in the word "alleged." Careless reporting and editing, as the judge suggests, can ruin people’s lives and careers. Being questioned does not equate with suspicion. Being detained does not add up to guilt. Arrest does not equal conviction.

    These are important principles and they are part of the bedrock that makes for quality journalism and for a democracy in which diverse views can be reconciled.

    Those caught up in the ever-expanding net of Ergenekon deserve respect of those rights enshrined in Turkish law as well as the codes of ethics that define our profession. These are the body of rights that include the right of presumed innocence until the pronouncement of guilt by a court of law. Ergenekon suspects deserve this. Islamic terror suspects deserve it. Suspected rapists deserve it. Rock-throwing children deserve it. This is not a right to be treated as a privilege depending on background, political orientation or any other circumstance. It is, as the justice noted, a human right and its infringement is a "crime against humanity."

    Any discussion of these issues, of course, inevitably leads to the question: If the news media is abusing its station, who or what should intervene to correct matters? There are certainly those who will answer, sometimes sincerely and sometimes not, that a need to improve standards legitimizes official oversight. This is a logic we reject in its entirety. The correction mechanism is the audience. Readers, viewers and listeners hold the ultimate power over the news media. They should demand transparency, accountability and fairness. When they do, we are ready to answer.
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