MR. CONNELL: Good morning, everyone. I’m David Connell. I’m the information officer at the U.S. Consulate. Thank you for coming this morning to this on-the-record roundtable on the role of independent media in civil society with Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Doug Frantz. Consul General Hunter would like to start with a few opening remarks. Thank you.
MR. HUNTER: Welcome again to all of you for at least one person. Somewhat to my surprise, it’s a first visit here, but surely it won’t be the last. But I’m very pleased you all could make it. And Assistant Secretary Frantz as well, no stranger to Turkey, no stranger to interesting times in Turkey. And what we’ve got to talk about today couldn’t be more topical. I think, in times of uncertainty, as these seem to be, the ability frankly and openly to express a viewpoint and have it respectfully heard is absolutely essential.
And there are certainly those here and outside observers who have felt some concern recently about people’s ability to do exactly that. Just around this table there are a variety of viewpoints. That’s a healthy thing, and I think will add to the richness of today’s discussion, which I hope everyone will find useful and enlightening. I’d like to thank you all again for coming, and we’ll open it up first to the Assistant Secretary.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Perfect timing.
MR. HUNTER: Once we get our last guest seated. (Laughter.)
PARTICIPANT: I’m so sorry.
PARTICIPANT: It’s okay.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Hi, I’m Doug. (Inaudible) very nice to meet you.
PARTICIPANT: Very nice to meet you, too. Sorry. Sorry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Easy. Relax. Relax. (Inaudible.)
Hello. Nice to meet you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: You didn’t miss anything. It was just the CG.
MR. HUNTER: Just (inaudible).
PARTICIPANT: I’m so sorry. The road was blocked and I had to walk.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: This is a very hard place to find, isn’t it?
PARTICIPANT: Yeah, it is, a bit
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yes.
So I’ll just make some very brief remarks to begin. As always, it’s wonderful to be back in Turkey. Catherine and I – Catherine joined me yesterday so she could also return to Turkey. We were here for five and a half years, from 2000 until the end of –
QUESTION: May I record?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: — yes, please – from the – until – from 2000 until the end of 2005. And we both think of that time as the best time in our lives, professionally and personally. It’s a wonderful country, it’s a hospitable country, and it’s a country with a long and important friendship with the United States. And we’re very pleased to be back. And I’m honored that all of you accepted the invitation to come. And I’m hoping and I’m certainly almost positive we’ll have a lively discussion at the end of my short introduction.
I just did want to touch on what Chuck said about freedom of expression. And I’m not here to lecture you. I don’t need to lecture any of you about the value of freedom of expression, about the value of rule of law and of independent and free media. I think some of the events, certainly the attempt to block Twitter and the blocking of YouTube, have caused some concern in the United States and among other friends of Turkey. And everything that I say, including the provocative blog that I wrote a couple of weeks ago, is said in friendship and out of admiration for Turkey’s past and –
QUESTION: What was the title of it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: “21st Century Book Burning.”
QUESTION: Book burning.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It was a comparison between countries – among countries that try to shut off the internet. It was not Turkey-specific. It spoke more generally about the need for freedom of expression. There are – so often we focus on the negatives, but there have been many – there have been positive developments in the journalism sphere here as well. I think the number of journalists who are in jail has been going down steadily, and that’s a very good thing, because journalism should not be a crime, and we shouldn’t confuse journalism with criminal activity.
On the social media, I think there are concerns. And I would refer, I think, to a Turkish proverb, which is that you don’t burn the sheep to kill one flea. I think that’s about the translation; I can’t say it in Turkish. And I think that when you try to stop social media you’re using a blunt instrument that punishes the technology not the individuals who are misusing the technology. And I think that’s really the heart of what I want to say about the social media issues here.
The release of the taped conversations involving the prime minister were certainly alarming and fascinating. I thought that the last one involving the Fidan conversation was shocking. I think that represented a clear violation of national security in Turkey. And – but the way we handle that in the United States, I think, can be illustrated by the Snowden case. You punish the leaker, or by the Chelsea Manning in WikiLeaks case, you punish the leaker; you don’t punish the technology. And I think that’s a critical difference. Otherwise, as I said, you’re dealing with a blunt instrument. You don’t want to take Twitter or YouTube or any other social media way from the millions of people who use it and who use it freely and legally.
And then the last thing I want to touch on: When I arrived here in 2000, the Turkish economy was in trouble. Inflation must have been around 80 or 90 percent. In January of 2001, we remember the dispute between Ecevit and Sezer in the parliament, and what an economic catastrophe that caused. It was a genuine economic crisis, and I think that with the help from our good friend Kemal Dervis and many others, and then with the execution by AK PARTi and Prime Minister Erdogan and his team, you’ve seen this economy grow dramatically. You’ve seen the lives of everyday Turks improve in meaningful ways. And I think that that’s been vital to bringing along democracy as well.
But I think that Turkey is at a difficult point economically now. We’re in the second year here of slow growth, and I think that Turkey risks being sort of in this middle-class trap where you have low-value exports, agricultural exports, and where you can’t take advantage of the intellectual capital in Turkey. In order to do that, I think Turkey needs continued influx of direct investment from foreign countries. It needs to have good relations with foreign countries for its exports, and that, I think, is why the people in Turkey – all people, regardless of your political persuasion – should be concerned about the damage done to Turkey’s image by ineffective efforts to close down social media, to polarize the press, and to, in some cases, choose to enforce only the laws that you want to enforce.
I think that in a democracy, the obligation of all leaders is to follow all laws. And again, I’m going to stop now, but I say this without any animus toward Turkey in any way. I mean, I can’t tell you how fond Catherine and I are of Turkey and the Turkish people. They embraced us when we came, they embraced our two children, and we all left with heavy hearts. And so we’ve come back fairly often on our holidays. And I’m back today. I think I hope to deliver a message that the United States remains a strong ally of Turkey and a friend who simply gives you friendly advice, just as we expect Turkey to give friendly advice to the United States.
And now I hope we can have a lively discussion, and I appreciate all of you coming. I think Mehmet Barlas’s column was unfortunate, and I hope that it doesn’t cause any of you any problems at your newspapers or with the public. I think that he was misguided, I mean, in the fact that we have a full range of views around this table is what a free press is all about, it’s what democracy is all about, and it’s certainly what I was all about as a journalist. So I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have.
I have this thick folder here in case you ask questions that are very hard – (laughter) – because I’ll refer to my guidance. It’s one thing I’ve learned in making this switch from journalism, which I committed for 35 years, to government, where I try to do my best imitation of a diplomat. So I may need to pay attention to this guidance once in a while.
So I’ll open it up. No questions? (Laughter.)
MR. HUNTER: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, actually, you summarize what is happening right now in Turkey, so there is no need to open up any other (inaudible).
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Oh, good. This was not as painful as I expected it was going to be. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, actually, you summarize what has happened. What do you suggest we should do as journalists in Turkey?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: As journalists, I mean, you need to do the job that you have been doing, Fehmi, for three decades. I don’t want to age you here, but I think at least that long. I mean, when I lived here and I worked here as a journalist and paid much closer attention to the Turkish press, I had the sense that there wasn’t this kind of polarization that exists now. There weren’t strictly pro-government publications and strictly anti-government publications. There were difficulties, I would say, with business interests affecting journalism coverage, but I don’t think that this polarization which I’ve been reading about and hearing about for the last couple of days since I got here – I don’t think it existed then. I think that this is a recent phenomenon.
QUESTION: Do you think this is unique to Turkey or it is a tendency going around in many places in the world?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I think – it’s not – certainly not unique to Turkey, but I think that it’s damaging to the Turkish democracy. And as Frank Ricciardone said last weekend, it’s damaging to Turkey’s image in the world. And the image of Turkey, just like the image of the United States, is a valuable commodity. So these things – no, they’re not unique, but – to Turkey – but it’s just unexpected in Turkey. It’s unexpected by me. I mean, we have divisions in the United States. We have Fox News and we have MSNBC – very, very predictable – politically aligned over here on the right in the case of Fox News, over here on the left in the case of MSNBC. And certainly sometimes, particularly in the case of Fox News, they get their facts wrong or they substitute opinion for facts.
So we see bits of this, but I think your responsibility as journalists is always to be objective, to be impartial, to not let your personal bias affect your news coverage, because a democracy depends on people getting dependable information about their government and about their leaders. Without that, you end up with a pretend democracy. And Turkey is not a pretend democracy, and I don’t think anyone on any side of the political spectrum wants Turkey to be a pretend democracy. This is a vibrant and vigorous democracy, and that democracy has been critical in allowing Turkey to have this decade of economic growth.
And I think that that democracy, both in reality here in Turkey and in the perception of people in Western Europe, in the United States, I think that that reality and that perception, they’re both critical to the economic future of Turkey, because Turkey and Turks shouldn’t be happy with where they are economically. There’s been a lot of progress, but there’s so much more that can be done here because of the natural resources, because of the intellectual capital, because of this very young population. And I think democracy functions best when it has fair and objective news coverage, and so that’s sort of, I guess, the mission. It’s nothing you haven’t heard. It’s nothing you haven’t practiced for your whole career.
QUESTION: But the government believes that democracy is under threat lately and some undemocratic forces of the country trying to influence the politics in a way that the government cannot function. So that’s the reason why they block the social media explosion.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: This – the Erdogan government throughout its history has faced very difficult challenges: 2007 the planned coup – that’s a real challenge. Dealing with the generals and easing them out of politics was not only a challenge but I believe an accomplishment. So I understand that there are real challenges facing this government, as there are real challenges facing any government. But let me go back again to this concept of a blunt instrument: Don’t punish the technology, don’t punish the people who are using Twitter, YouTube, all social media legally and freely. Find out who’s responsible and punish the individual. That’s what a democracy does.
And let me go back again to the Snowden case and let’s look at what happened there. Edward Snowden, like I did, took an oath to the United States Government. Part of that oath was promising to uphold the laws of the United States Government. And that means – in my case and in his case – not releasing classified information. He took an oath. He swore. And he knew when he released this information that he was breaking the law. And so he expected, I’m sure, that he would be charged with breaking the law. And if you’re going to be a responsible leaker, you need to come back to the U.S. and face a fair trial, you need to face due process. That is as it should be. What the United States has not done, what the government will never try to do there, is shut down The Washington Post which published those documents, shut down The Guardian which published those documents, shut down websites that posted those documents. Go after the leaker, but don’t go after the means of distribution, because when you do that you damage the free press, and that’s the central – a central element of democracy in the United States just as it’s a central element of democracy here.
So I think the Snowden case can be, in fact, very instructive for Turkey. Wiretapping the prime minister of this country, whether it’s in a person conversation or a business conversation, probably breaks the Turkish law. Leaking those conversations probably breaks the Turkish law. So go after the leakers, submit them to due process – due process, rule of law, and that will send the right message, I think. That will say – tell you how you’re dealing with your critics.
I mean, in the United States there is a vigorous culture of criticizing government officials. Sadly, since I became a government official, I’ve suffered some of that criticism – (laughter) – not nearly at the level of President Obama. I’ll use President Obama as Exhibit A here. I mean, the things that have been said about that man are unconscionable, unconscionable. But nobody’s gone to jail for saying that. Nobody’s been threatened for saying that. It’s the price of being a public official in a democracy: You’ve got to put up with a lot of falsehoods. The only time that you change your course of action and submit to the rule of law is when laws have been broken. And we don’t have an Article 301 in the United States, and I’m very glad we don’t and I wish you didn’t here, frankly, because I think it would be freer and healthier. I think that that article in particular is an anachronism. Turkey has outgrown that. Turkey is big enough now and bold enough and prominent enough to get rid of that law.
QUESTION: Sir –
QUESTION: No, please.
QUESTION: Sorry. So yes, one dimension of shutting down Twitter, it’s definitely about freedom of speech. But I think this is also a case of a clash between a national state and globalization, actually. I think this is the perfect case study for that because, according to the government, the reason why they shut down Twitter was actually they – how they portrayed it was like this is an American company and we have our own rules, these national rules, and this American company is not abiding to our rules because we demand, for example, them to close certain accounts because these accounts breach the personal – the privacy and – so and what we asked from Twitter was to shut down all these accounts, and they didn’t adhere to our rules. So – and that’s the reason we are punishing, of course, technology and we’re shutting down Twitter, and we want Twitter to open up an office in Turkey and that would be fine then. We would directly be in touch with Twitter.
What do you say about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I have to be very careful not to get into a dispute between a commercial company and the Government of Turkey. That’s not what I want to talk about. I’m talking about government-to-government things. That said, Twitter should certainly listen carefully to the requests of any government and they should weigh those requests with their broader global mandate of promoting free speech and free press. I mean, they cannot – Twitter cannot and should not just willy-nilly close accounts. They shouldn’t because any government says, “Close that account. We don’t like it.” Twitter has a responsibility to its billions of users not to do that lightly. I don’t know what the substance of the discussion between Twitter and the government was and if Twitter was, in fact, unresponsive. I think that that was a mistake on their part, but I think the far larger mistake was the government taking this very bold, and what we saw ineffective, ineffective action to shut down Twitter. I mean, look at what happened to Twitter traffic in Turkey after they shut that down. It went up. It went up. So that’s an ineffective way. Even if you want to use a blunt instrument, it’s not the way to do it. It was an ineffective action.
But I do understand that there are real concerns about news and misinformation that was spread across the Twitter universe. But again, go after that through due process channels and go after the individuals who are posting that. And Twitter probably has – well, I don’t know what their responsibilities are legally, but they have a responsibility to listen carefully and do everything they can within their interpretation of the law.
QUESTION: Well, I would ask a question related to the basic and simple thing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I can deal with that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, why are you so much so interested with the press freedom deficit in Turkey? Why? And is an unfettered and mostly free press good for your interest, for your national interest in Turkey? And if the answer is yes, tell me why.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Sure.
QUESTION: I want to know about the reasons behind your existence here, your presence here. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I’d like to know that too, Kadri. (Laughter.) I think I’ll take that as a rhetorical question because all of us sitting around this table know the value of a free press. One of us has gone to jail because of the value of a free press.
Democracies function only when the people in that democracy have access to information, when they have free, unfettered access to something approaching the truth. That is an essential element of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founders of the United States, said it very well in the early days of our country more than 200 years ago. He said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” I think that’s an interesting point. It was enshrined in the First Amendment in the United States.
And sometimes government officials, including Jefferson in his day, didn’t like what they read in the newspapers. Fortunately, he didn’t have to worry about social media, but they didn’t like what they read there. But they understood that to have a functioning democracy, to have people who can wisely choose their leaders, to have people who know what their governments are doing in their name, in order to do that the most important element in that is a free press. And that’s a press that’s free of influence from businesses, influence from governments, influence from outside forces.
And you and I were on the panel together in Cape Town when I talked about the value of leaks. I was a reporter for 35 years. Most of that time I was an investigative reporter and I depended on leaks from government officials. I think that leaks can serve an important function in keeping government accountable and in combatting abuses by government in the name of its own people. But there also are legitimate secrets that governments must keep. I think all of us are sophisticated enough to understand that you cannot have one individual like Edward Snowden making choices about what to expose when it comes to surveillance operations that protect not just the security of the United States but the security of people all over the world. So leaks play a role and sometimes governments leak purposely, but that’s not to say that all leaks are equal.
But I mean, and why is it good for your interests? I mean, that’s what I was trying to say before. Outside investors and Turks themselves who are investing, who are going to make this economy grow, make it get healthier even, improve the lives of everyday Turks, they want to know that the rule of law exists here, that leaders don’t choose which laws they choose to follow. And the most important way they can know that is if you have an open press that serves as a check on the government.
I think that some of the issues I’ve heard raised in the last couple days when I’ve had meetings here in Turkey is that there are concerns about whether checks remain on the government in Turkey. Well, the press is one important check that should be – should be – outside the control of the government.
QUESTION: So call’s coming – one more questioner there.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: He does talk, you know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Calls coming from – other words, I mean, as now you do. I mean, you are calling, you are making a call right now.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: A plea.
QUESTION: Plea, yes. Let’s be more diplomatic. A plea. Do you think that this pleas can work on the Turkish Government to convince them to make efforts to keep or to make efforts to make the – to make the press freedom deficit smaller in Turkey? Do you think that the foreign influence can be effective in helping Turkey’s press freedom deficit to get smaller?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: In a word: Yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: How.
QUESTION: — and why it can work.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It can work because Turkey is part of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. Turkey is a vital NATO partner. Turkey has been a partner and friend with the United States for far more than 50 years – far more than 50 years.
My uncle tells stories about fighting in Korea, where he was an Army officer, alongside very brave Turkish soldiers. And our relationship goes back much farther than that. And so I think that we have a responsibility, if we feel that Turkey is straying from its democratic path, to make a plea to remember what made Turkey strong, to what Ataturk saw in his vision when he created modern Turkey.
And so, again, as I said at the start, I’m not – I didn’t come here to lecture you. I didn’t come here to tell the government what to do or to tell you, as journalists, what to do. That is truly not my place. I hope I’m more humble than that.
And I also was a journalist long enough to know that I would really resent it if some government official came here and lectured me. That’s not why I’m here, really. I’m here to talk about this issue and to talk about where the U.S. Government and where I personally see that deficit, and just to point out that there are consequences if it doesn’t get fixed.
Most importantly, there are consequences for the people of Turkey. And it’s the people of Turkey who are going to be most affected and I think most damaged if there is this worldwide perception that Turkey has become something other than a vibrant democracy.
I mean, when you look at countries around the world that censor the internet, what countries are they? Pakistan, China, North Korea, Russia. You don’t want Turkey to be in that sentence. Turkey is not in that same sentence, and you don’t want Turkey to be there. Turkey’s better in so many ways. Turkey has a longer tradition. I mean, you can see, I think, the impact of a censored press and a government-controlled press in Russia today. You see what comes out of every television network in Moscow and most newspapers in Moscow. It’s propaganda fed to them by their government. It’s misinformation that is costing Russia economically – we’ve already seen the ruble start to decline. If this action in the Ukraine escalates, the impact of sanctions are going to be far, far greater.
So that’s not to equate that with Turkey, but it is to say that if you have a press that isn’t free – if you have a press that isn’t free and is subject to government control, they can do things that are not in the interest of their own people.
QUESTION: Mr. Frantz, I have two questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Call me Doug, please.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Only my wife has to call me Mr. Frantz. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, Doug. First question is: As a very informative about Turkey, as a journalist, do you think that this process, the last process of deteriorations in the media and democracy, et cetera, is an exceptional period for Turkey? Or do you think that Turkey is getting away from the democratic legacy that we were all proud of. So is this an exceptional trend or you see it as a new phase in our politics, in our state – it’s social science. This is the first one.
And the second: You know that – you said that Snowden case was illegal, from the perspective of the American Government. But the newspapers that published the revelations that he did – Guardian and Washington Post – got the Pulitzer Prize. So how do you see that (inaudible) dilemma? So, I mean, something that is wrong from a governmental perspective could be correct from media perspective. How – as a journalist and an official, how do you deal with that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah. Yes. Good question. Let me talk about the first one first, initially – the exceptional trend. Only the Turkish people and their leaders will determine whether this is an exceptional trend that will be corrected or whether it’s the first stop on a path toward a more authoritarian future. That’s for the Turkish people to decide. I certainly hope that it’s a brief moment in Turkish history and that Turkey will very soon return to a free and open and independent press.
Now the Turkish press, like the American press, like every press everywhere, has its flaws. Their – people try to exert influence in various ways. I think you could go back when I was here, about 70 percent of the broadcast and print media were controlled by one man, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good situation. There were problems then. But I think that – to use Kadri’s word, the deficit is greater now, and I hope that that will be shortened and tightened. But it’s not for me to – I don’t know enough really to say what the future holds. I just came here to try and talk about how I honestly, mostly as a journalist, hope to see it goes, and as someone who really has deep, deep affection for Turkey.
So – but again, that’s the decision that will be made by the people of Turkey and by those of you sitting around this table. You have a responsibility here too; that’s for sure.
On Snowden, I was – before I took this job at the State Department seven months ago, I was the national security editor of The Washington Post, and that meant that I dealt with some of those Snowden stories. And my perspective then was the same as it – as my perspective now, because when I walked in the door at the State Department, I didn’t have to check my journalism ethics and my belief in the freedom of the press at the door. I am the same person I was when I worked here for The New York Times and for The Los Angeles Times. I’m the same person I was when I was managing editor of The Los Angeles Times and we published stories that the government called us up and asked us not to publish, but we published them because in our judgment it was far more important to get the news out. That was certainly the judgment that we made at The Washington Post, and that was the judgment that was made at The Guardian.
And I would go back to what I was saying initially: Punish the leaker. Snowden broke the law. Have him come back and go to trial. But there was no attempt, nor should there be any attempt, to punish the distributors of the news. In fact, I applaud the Pulitzer committee for awarding the Pulitzer Prize for public service to The Guardian-U.S. and to The Washington Post. I won that prize once myself. That’s the highest prize. I was part of a team from The New York Times that won that prize. That prize symbolizes the public service aspect of journalism, and President Obama has said that the Snowden leaks, while very damaging, started an important debate in the United States and around the world.
President Obama created a panel to review the issues that have been raised in these documents. They made recommendations for changes in U.S. surveillance policy to the White House. Many of those recommendations were accepted; some of them are still under consideration. That’s what a democracy does. That’s how a democracy operates. If you’re making mistakes and if they’re exposed, the first thing you do is try and fix those mistakes. And the second thing you do is, if necessary, to bring to bear the rule of law on the person, like Edward Snowden, who broke the law, who violated his oath. I mean, who gave him the right to steal 1.5 million documents and release them as he sees fit? But what you don’t do in a democracy is go after the press for doing its job. Journalism is not a crime. Journalism should not be a crime. Journalists should not go to jail for doing their jobs.
QUESTION: Sir, on one hand you look at numbers regarding, for example, press freedom in Turkey, and there’s a very bleak picture, as you said. Journalists are imprisoned, Twitter is shut down. Like, okay, it looks like Putin, okay? It looks like Putin Russia, on numbers.
On the other hand, I’m sure you are also very much aware of that, given that you have been – you have spent so much time in Turkey. On the other hand we see, for example, certain taboos are not determining Turkish politics anymore. People can freely write about the Kurdish subject, Armenian genocide; you go on mainstream TV, talk about the Armenian genocide. You’re not targeted anymore. And we, see, like certain – I mean, you can even discuss the founding father of this country, which was unquestionable before. You talk about the army. And in fact, I mean, we see a lot of different press outlets were harshly critical of Erdogan, right? So you think the picture about Turkish – press freedom in Turkey is, like, a bit nuanced in that sense?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Of course. I mean, of course it’s nuanced. And I don’t want to – for one second I do not want to compare Turkey to Russia or Erdogan to Putin. Let me make that very clear, please. I use that Putin and Russia example only to say what happens when you have an unfree press. But I think that I have said before, and I will repeat it now very clearly: Turkey has a vigorous press. And I talked about the economic progress over the past 10 years. I talked about the reduction in the number of journalists in jail for doing their job. There’s progress, and certainly, the ability to discuss the Armenian – the Armenian massacres, the ability to openly discuss a reconciliation with the Kurds – I mean, that’s vital. And all I’m saying (inaudible) is that Turkey needs to stay on that path, and we need to make sure that this is, I think, an exceptional moment in Turkish democratic history, not the start of a deterioration, not a return to the ’50s or the ’60s or the ’70s.
There were many taboos in Turkey when I came here in 2000. As an international journalist, I could ignore them; as a Turkish journalist, you couldn’t ignore them. And many of those taboos have been wiped away, and that’s right. But you cannot replace the old taboos with new taboos. That cannot happen. And so that’s all. It’s a cautionary tale. And again – and that’s why I say that out of friendship and deep affection for Turkey and for the Turkish press, where I have very many friends, as Fehmi’s alter-ego said in a column a couple weeks ago. (Laughter.) We met often when I was here. And I didn’t choose my friends lightly. They were people who….
… as Fehmi’s alter ego said in a column a couple weeks ago. (Laughter.) We met often when I was here, and I didn’t choose my friends lightly. They were people who were smart and insightful about Turkey, and those people still exist. I mean, we have institutions at this table.
And so I just – my only goal in talking about this is just to remind the press of its long and vital history here. And I do think that’s a pretty, if I can quote myself, not a bad insight about you don’t want to replace the old taboos with new taboos. You need to be able to write freely about everything and responsibly – freely and responsibly. Because being a free and independent press also requires a responsibility on the part of the press, and that responsibility involves gathering all the facts, listening to all the voices.
QUESTION: (Via translation) As a continuation of Kadri’s question, to add on, how important is the problem of freedom of expression in Turkey a problem for the U.S. Administration?
And when we meet with American officials and we ask them why the issue of press freedom is not brought up at higher levels, that we are told – but the – but Turkey is a very close ally and a very close friend. And last, when I was in prison, I recall Hillary Clinton bringing the issue up directly, but since then there hasn’t been a very high level addressing of this issue. If the process continues as you mentioned in this sense, how will it impact Turkish-American relations?
And when you were just discussing Snowden, you had mentioned pursuing a person and penalizing a person who causes, who makes the leak. But what Julian Assange has experienced in WikiLeaks is something that doesn’t necessarily validate what you’re saying. There, the American Administration had chosen directly to focus on those who were disseminating the news.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: All right, Nedim. (Laughter.) All right. The other questions have been easy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Via translation) That’s why I was prisoned. There is a reason. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well, I’m glad you’re free. (Laughter.) And I want to keep my job, so I’ll answer this very carefully. The United States has a vital strategic relationship with Turkey. That relationship covers many issues, as you know. We have a common problem on the Syrian border, we have other counterterrorism problems. Turkey has played an important role in Afghanistan and will have an important role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the ISAF forces at the end of this year. Turkey has strong economic ties with the United States. We would like to grow those ties. We want this relationship to be enduring, and we want it to be even closer.
I’ve come here to talk about the freedom of expression deficit because our relationship, the relationship between these two countries, will grow stronger, and the Turkish economy will grow stronger. And its role in Europe and Asia will increase if it is a democracy and if it is recognized worldwide as a democracy. Democracies allow freedom of expression. Democracies don’t put journalists in jail.
But freedom of expression is only one of many issues between our two countries. Secretary Kerry has many conversations with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and this is one of the issues that they discuss. I’m here meeting with you as a representative of the State Department and of the Obama Administration to say that we have some concerns about freedom of expression and about making sure that our friends in Turkey recognize that freedom of expression is a central element of a democracy.
Bravo to Secretary Clinton for raising this issue. But I can assure you that she didn’t feel any more strongly about the value of freedom of expression and the importance of a free press than Secretary Kerry. He’s been a little busy with some other things.
The question of how it will affect relations – we don’t want to do anything that damages the partnership between the United States and Turkey. That’s not why I’m here. I’ve tried to be, I hope, very careful in saying that. I’m not here to lecture you. I want – I’m here to help strengthen the relationship between our two countries because that’s my job professionally, but more importantly that’s my feeling personally. And so there are no ultimatums here. These are simply suggestions from your friend.
On WikiLeaks, the person who distributed those 250,000 secret documents, the person who provided them to Julian Assange, Private Chelsea Manning, is now serving 35 years in prison in the United States. The New York Times and other outlets that published WikiLeaks were not threatened, they were not punished. Julian Assange, as far as I know, has not been charged with a crime by the United States. There’s been a lot of loud talk in Congress, but that’s what they do in Congress. He’s in the embassy in Ecuador – the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by his own choice, and he’s – and I honestly have no idea whether he would be charged with a crime in the United States.
We had an exchange at the IPI World Congress in Cape Town about Assange. His lawyer from London, Jennifer Robinson, was there. And a question came up from the audience about whether Assange is a journalist or an activist. And I’m not sure what the answer to that is. The definition of a journalist is an evolving term. And I don’t know where he fits in there, and I said as much. But I think that the key point here is that he has not been charged with a crime by the United States. He’s been investigated, but there’s been no determination at this point that he broke the law, and I don’t know where that investigation stands.
I know that’s not a full and complete answer on the WikiLeaks. It’s a little bit opaque to me, and the State Department is not the Justice Department, and so I don’t have any real insights to the status of their inquiry on Assange. And honestly, if I knew, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.
QUESTION: (Via translation) So can he leave the Embassy in Ecuador and go have a beer in New York?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: He’s free to try. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer to that. I really don’t. I don’t know. It’s possible that there is a sealed indictment of Assange. These are indictments that are handed down, and because the person is at-large, free – relatively in this case – those criminal charges are not known. It’s possible. I don’t know the answer. It’s equally possible that the investigation of him is over, and that there’s been a decision not to charge him. I don’t know what that is. And the only way we’ll know –
QUESTION: So the investigation is over and (inaudible) decision –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: No. I don’t know.
QUESTION: — or you just don’t know?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t know.
QUESTION: Investigation may continue (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It may be continuing.
QUESTION: I see.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It may be continuing. It’s been a very long time. My best guess is that the investigation is over, but I don’t know what the final decision was, whether to charge him with a crime or not. I don’t know.
QUESTION: According to your definition, how to approach to those kind of (inaudible), he should not be –
QUESTION: — charged.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yes. That’s my definition.
QUESTION: According to your definition.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: According to my definition, yes.
QUESTION: I think he’s not a U.S. citizen.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: No, he’s not a U.S. citizen.
QUESTION: And he’s not been charged – he’s been charged with some other –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: A sex-related crime in Sweden.
QUESTION: Yeah, crimes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yes. No, there – he faces no charges in the United States at this point. The United States charges people who aren’t citizens fairly often. But again, let me be really clear just so we don’t have a language issue or anything else: I don’t know whether he faces secret charges in the United States or not. I do not know.
QUESTION: Can we go back to other problems?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: We can do whatever you want. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I have this notion in my mind, actually, some of the problems that we are facing right now stem from the facts that the old Turkish media system has been shattered, and a new system will emerge. And in between, we have this turbulence right now. We don’t know how to react to these changes. Traditional media outlets, as you mentioned, that somehow a group of – a media group had the monopoly almost –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Almost. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Now, we have different type of media system.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Landscape, yeah.
QUESTION: Landscape, yes. We have a traditional one, some independent ones, some media outlets close to the government, and some belonging to – we call the Community, Cemaat. So we don’t know how to make all these come together and create a new media system. Do you think this may be the case why we…
And there was a lot of misunderstanding in those conversations. There was a lot of – on Lavrov’s side sort of hearing what you want to hear. I don’t know that that’s the situation here and I should probably stop, but –
QUESTION: Maybe lost in translation.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Perhaps. Perhaps lost in translation. Perhaps that’s what happened here. I think that whatever the cause was, I think there was a misunderstanding, and I think it’s been cleared up now. But it’s up to the press to get to the bottom of that and to figure out and to report where the misunderstanding was. It’s just like it’s up to the press not to print scurrilous accusations about a man like Frank Ricciardone, who cares deeply about Turkey. This is not his first rodeo in Turkey. He’s been here before and he came back because he, like me, has great affection for Turkey and for the Turkish people. And I think some of the attacks on Frank have been personal and very unfortunate, and I think they do a disservice not just to him but to the Turkish press.
But that’s not unique to Turkey. We have crazy attacks on U.S. officials in the American press. It happens more often than we would like. But like in Turkey, there should be a dependable, independent press that’s willing to go out and find the facts and correct those misimpressions.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for one or two more questions.
QUESTION: Sir, so as you said, Turkey and the United States have been allies and U.S. played a very crucial role in terms of helping Turkey to improve its democracy. Do you think the current language of the American state or the American politicians are constructive in the sense that Turkey is going through rough times, and as Mr. Koru pointed out, it’s a transition period that Turkey is trying to build up new institutions and new culture? And of course, the government is under heavy attack due to many reasons, including the Syrian crisis, where Turkey is actually – Turkey works with the United States very closely.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yes.
QUESTION: So do you think the American state employs a proper language and kind of a constructive attitude towards Turkey in helping Turkey to get over these issues?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Conversations among friends and allies don’t always involve patting you on the back and saying, “Great job, Tayyip.” (Laughter.) Conversations among friends involve pointing out difficulties, pointing out problem areas. I am sure that when Prime Minister Erdogan and President Obama have their conversations, just as when Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Davutoglu have their conversations, that it’s not all, “You’re doing a great job, John.” “Ah, Ahmet, you’re doing really well.” You have an exchange. And sometimes those exchanges are pretty strong in those private conversations. I think that the public conversation between U.S. officials and Turkish officials, the public conversation, is healthy. I think it’s in the best interests of Turkey and the best interests of the United States. We want to maintain this partnership. We would like to help you through this passing phase.
And our interest is not ever to interfere in the domestic politics of Turkey. It’s simply to help strengthen democracy in Turkey and secure its place in the Euro-Atlantic community, where it belongs, where it belongs – which is not to say Turkey turns its back on Asia, but when you think about democracy, that’s where Turkey is, that’s where Turkey should be. And I think it’s incumbent upon the EU and the United States and Turkey’s other friends to speak candidly and to speak responsibly about Turkey’s affairs when they affect the external world, when they affect Turkey’s image in the world. I think Frank, in his interview over the weekend, said it very well. His concern is the damage to Turkey’s image. And that image – image is important, particularly important when it comes to the economy here.
QUESTION: So what if this trend is not a passing one?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I’ll come back. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So will it be influential? I repeat the same question. Does the pressure work, I mean, from the outside our Turkey, I mean, in these terms that you describe?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I –
QUESTION: If I’m not so rude by defining it –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: No –
QUESTION: — as pressure.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah, I might –
QUESTION: You can refute, divert –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thank you.
QUESTION: — of pressure and then replace by one other one. But as a journalist I would have you define it as pressure.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Do you think my conversation here is pressure?
QUESTION: When it will become public, it can be perceived as pressure. Why not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well –
QUESTION: Why not? Don’t you think so?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: No, I don’t. I don’t. I don’t think – I’m not pressuring you. Pressure, to me, involves a threat. Pressure involves consequences that I would impose on you if you don’t bend to my will: “If you don’t open up this press in Turkey, I’m going to sanction you or something.” That’s not what this conversation is about. This is not pressure.
QUESTION: Moral pressure?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Moral suasion.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Moral suasion. And it’s in the best interests of both countries that there be an open and free press here. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not trying to pressure you. I mean, as I said before, Kadri, I would resent it if I were a journalist and an American official came here to apply pressure, to lecture me. I would resent it if I were a Turk and I felt that the United States was interfering in my internal affairs. That’s not what I’m trying to do, and I hope that you understand that. That’s not really what this is about.
And I value this conversation, I value the insights that you’ve shared with me, and I hope that this is a passing moment, an exceptional moment in Turkish history. And I just want to encourage that outcome and I recognize that the government is in a very difficult position, that it faces many challenges and has for many years. And they have overcome those challenges to the benefit of the people of Turkey and the economy of Turkey. But when there are missteps, when you have too many journalists in jail, when there is a threat to a free and open media by attempts to block certain social media outlets, friends have a responsibility to speak up.
Okay? Thank you. Thank you all so much for your time and your help.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) There’s a discussion about a new phase in the media, an upcoming phase in the media. As you know, the 28 February period has a civilian leg and a military – and a media leg, for example. And in this we can – we might experience a period where owners of newspapers are tried. And in operations that the government intends to carry out against the community, or the (inaudible) as it’s known, some journalist’s names are being discussed, and as a result of this, in the government’s operation in this sense, as a result of this some journalists may be exposed unfairly to legal proceedings. They asked Kadri a question saying, “Has anyone called you directly to apply pressure?” But it’s at the point now where one doesn’t have to be called to have pressure applied because editors are now – and journalists are now self-censoring themselves to the degree that that’s not even necessary.
QUESTION: He has asked if the prime minister does call me.
QUESTION: (In Turkish.)
QUESTION: (In Turkish.)
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) There’s no need for anyone to call. An advisor of the prime minster can call or another minister can call, and he gets that message indirectly – the newspaper. What kind of a meaning would a period like this have, would a process like this have?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Let me say two things. First, self-censorship is the worst kind of censorship because it occurs in the darkness of your own mind where you operate by fear, and no journalist should be required to self-censor. All journalists should be required to be responsible communicators. Self-censorship is ultimately self-defeating for a democracy. That’s a good line. (Laughter.)
But as far as new legal action against journalists or newspaper owners, all I can say is that I hope that Turkey will follow due process and the rule of law. I’m not going to get involved at this point in that discussion, with all due respect, Nedim, with all due respect.
MODERATOR: Thank you all again for coming.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thank you so much, all of you.
- Source: U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul