A question of freedom: Vedat Demir

Our blog series in the Science Year 2024 – Freedom

Vedat Demir, what does the restriction of freedom of press mean for everyday life and science?

Freedom is as vital to societies as air and water. Freedom of expression is an essential human right that forms the basis of open government and a well-informed society through public debate, as well as free and independent media. Therefore, ensuring freedom of expression and having free, independent, and diverse media are foremost elementary for any healthy and strong democracy. Likewise, scientific and academic freedom, as a part of freedom of expression, is of great importance for societies. Science can only develop in free environments and serve the public interest.

Freedom is as important to a society as air and water

Freedom of the press is a right granted to journalists to provide the public with access to accurate news and information. The media is a key instrument for the formation of a healthy public opinion. In a free and pluralistic media order, society can access all kinds of opinions and vote accordingly in elections. The media also serves as a control mechanism that monitors those in power with its news and commentary, forcing them to spend citizens' tax money more carefully and to be more transparent, honest and fair. For this reason, the media is considered the fourth power in democracies after the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The world is witnessing the rise of a populist wave. Populist politicians act as spokespeople for the nation and claim to protect its interests. In order to gain the widest possible social support, they use hate speech to marginalize other parts of society and present themselves as saviors against these supposed enemies. If politicians are not controlled and reined in, there is a risk that they will eventually become authoritarian and corrupt. The first groups targeted by these leaders are usually journalists and academics because, in line with their existential goals, they question and criticize everything and always try to uncover reality and the truth. Politicians are very likely to dislike being told the truth and criticized because they believe it will cost them votes and undermine their power.

In my country, Turkey, I have personally experienced how the media and academia were gradually silenced because people did not protest because it was not directed against their own group. In the end, a country went from a thriving democracy to an authoritarian regime because people kept quiet.

In my country, Turkey, I have personally experienced how the media and science have gradually been silenced

Freedom of the press is part of freedom of thought and opinion. Regardless of the cause, the free use of all forms of expression that do not involve violence and hate speech must be defended, even by the most unpopular individuals or groups. People should decide what is "right" and what is "wrong", not politicians or bureaucrats, but the free competition of ideas. The smallest concession on freedom of expression will lead to concessions on other freedoms, ultimately leading to a more monolithic - or completely silent - society. It all starts with a small compromise on freedoms. The painful events in Europe in the first half of the 20th century are a stark reminder of this truth.

Text: Vedat Demir, April 2024