We are all familiar with this image
Technically, what it means is that a server is taking too long to reply to a data request made from another device, typically your computer, cell phone or tablet. The reasons can vary from the wrong IP address being typed in to a hardware problem to a problem with WiFi services. Typically, if the IP address is valid, it is a temporary problem easily solved by clicking the refresh button or resetting a router. But today, Turkish people throughout the country are seeing this message and it is not going to be a simple fix. For today, the Turkish government, i.e. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has blocked Wikipedia from Turkish internet users.
“After technical analysis and legal consideration … an administrative measure has been taken for this website,” the BTK telecoms authority said in a statement on its website. It cited a law that allows it to block access to individual web pages or entire sites for the ‘protection of public order, national security or the wellbeing of the public’. We are talking about Wikipedia, folks, not a subversive website, not a porn site … an educational, informational site. Such is the state of freedom of speech and freedom of press in Turkey today.
Meanwhile, across the pond here in our own backyard, there is this:
“EPA wipes its climate change site day before march on Washington. Visitors to the website on Saturday found it was ‘undergoing changes’ to reflect the agency’s ‘new direction’, as thousands protest climate inaction.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s main climate change website is “undergoing changes” to better reflect “the agency’s new direction” under Donald Trump. The announcement, made late Friday evening, left empty what was previously the “official government site” providing “comprehensive information on the issue of climate change and global warming”.
“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency. We want to eliminate confusion, by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.” – JP Freire, an associate administrator for public affairs
Previously, the website housed data on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters and reports on the effects of climate change and its impact on human health.
While I could go on for thousands of words about my outrage over the EPA and it’s anything-but-protecting-the-environment approach, this post it about freedom of speech and press, so I shall save the EPA commentary for another post.
Yesterday, in the wake of the European Press Prize awards, Peter Preston of The Guardian, wrote a very short piece:
“A final word on the European Press Prize as, awards delivered, a new season begins. The winners were all terrific. Congratulations to your Serbian investigators, young Romanian reporters, digital wizards from Bellingcat. Congratulations to three sensational writers from Stern and Spiegel. (Gosh! the Germans still invest mightily in good journalism). And more than a tip of the cap to Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times (and Guardian and Observer) for his scintillating takes on Brexit.
But one thing that sets these awards apart for me is a sense of danger – for Yavuz Baydar and his Turkish colleagues as democracy closes down, of a Warsaw government running amok and of Hungary’s Orbán defying the whole European idea. The dangers the Serbian winners raised as many marched in Belgrade, fighting for press freedoms lost.
Who can be complacent about Europe, its struggles, its future? When journalists meet, they hear a knocking at the gates.”
Even in the UK, freedom of the press is not what it once was. There are new laws permitting generalized surveillance, as well as a proposal for a new espionage act that could criminalize journalists and whistleblowers as spies. Both the UK and the U.S. dropped two points in the past year on the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) World Press Freedom Index in the past year. Even so, I do not see Prime Minister Theresa May approaching dictatorship, as I do in the cases of Erdoğan and Trump.
Earlier this month, Turkey held a vote on a referendum that consolidated significantly more power under Erdoğan. At the time, Donald Trump called President Erdoğan to offer congratulations. Today, Trump himself is talking about consolidating his own power. In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday night, Trump dismissed the “archaic” rules of the House and Senate — using that word four times — and suggested they needed to be streamlined “for the good of the country.” A few excerpts:
“We don’t have a lot of closers in politics, and I understand why: It’s a very rough system. It’s an archaic system.”
“You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it’s really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They’re archaic rules. And maybe at some point we’re going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.”
“You can’t go through a process like this. It’s not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you’re really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.”
“I think, you know, the filibuster concept is not a good concept to start off with.”
Trump is frustrated with the pace of legislation after 100 days, and his answer is that he wants to change the rules … the very rules that were designed to safeguard against any one individual in government amassing too much power and shifting the foundation of a democracy into one of an autocracy. And it all starts with stifling the voices of the press and of the people. Today, Trump effectively stifled the voice of what is arguably one of the most important agencies in the federal government, the EPA. Today Erdoğan stifled the voice of knowledge in his country. What is the future for these two nations under these authoritarian leaders? Think about it.