Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Impersonating free speech

Watching Bill Maher's standup act a few weeks ago it suddenly struck me that there is no equivalent in Turkey. (Ok so perhaps I'm a little slow to catch on but anyhow...) It was refreshing to watch him, he didn't give a damn about political correctness and just pointed out what he saw as wrongs. There is no Turkish comedian who gets up and slags off the prime minister, government policy and religion with a decent helping of curse words thrown in. The majority stick to safer topics of family relationships, dealing with the boss and so on.

Over six years ago when I first arrived here we had 'Reyting Hamdi' and 'Olacak O Kadar' which were skit shows that would gently parody politicians among other things. But they've disappeared now, replaced by endless soap operas and game shows. A quick read of comments on various news sites indicates that political satire is still alive and well albeit sheltered behind anonymity.

Why did it disappear? Well after the prime minister sued a comic book for publishing caricatures of his head attached to various zoo animals the mainstream media has kept its toes well behind the party line. There are very few television channels who oppose that, one recently had its founder arrested. One national newspaper claims to be objective and also had a senior journalist arrested at the same time.

Censorship is becoming the norm. Individuals who bring a case to court can persuade a judge to block access to websites. In the past year YouTube has been blocked multiple times, reinstated after they deleted the insulting material, WordPress ISP is blocked completely and last week Google groups were blocked.

It's not a healthy atmosphere. The only political comedy is provided by two lads on a Turkish Cypriot channel who annoyingly break off the comedy to talk directly a lot of the time. Rory Bremner and the two John's, if the UK doesn't provide enough material there's rich pickings over here.