Friday, November 5, 2010

Sticks and Stones....

The case of Oktay Eksi -- the long-time Hurriyet columnist who resigned this past week in the face of government and "public" pressure -- has been staying with me. The background: in what was to be one of his final columns, Eksi, a fixture in his newspaper's pages for some 40 years, railed against the Prime Minister and other government officials for their plan to build a series of controversial dams in a scenic part of northeastern Turkey. In an intemperate flight of rhetorical (and metaphorical) fancy, the columnist accused Erdogan and the others of being willing to "sell their own mothers."

Following strong criticism from Erdogan and the government and facing angry protesters in front of Hurriyet, Eksi quickly resigned. As Andrew Finkel makes clear in a very good Today's Zaman column (found here), Eksi is a difficult character to defend and it's obvious that many of his colleagues were probably happy to see him and his antiquated take on Turkish politics go.

Still, there's something disturbing about his departure. As Finkel writes: "Mr. Ek┼či was in effect forced to resign by a newspaper that is not eager to insult the government at a time when it is trying to wiggle free of a punitive tax bill of some TL 2 billion." Even more disturbing is what has happened since the former columnist's resignation. Not satisfied with only having Eksi's scalp, Erdogan and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz are suing him for "insulting" their honor and reputation. This is the latest in a string of similar cases initiated by Erdogan, who is asking for $71,000 in damages.

Should public officials be suing columnists for their rhetorical missteps? (The European Court of Human Rights says "no.") It would appear that the message that's being sent out in the Eksi case has more to it than simply the defense of honor.

(On a related note, Jennifer Hattam of the TreeHugger blog has a great post up about just what is happening with the dam project that Eksi wrote about and why people are getting so fired up about the government's actions on the issue.)

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