Famous economist says pressure on press will result in economic losses

Ankara Today’s Zaman / Professor Daron Acemoglu, a leading Turkish-American economist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has said increasing government-sponsored pressure on the press and journalists is alarming for institutions in Turkey and that the pressure will have deep economic costs.

According to Acemoglu, foreign investors may not leave a country because of the government’s pressure on the press in the short term, but they will do this in the long term and this will have dire consequences on the country’s economy.

Speaking to the Radikal daily, the professor said the Turkish state used disproportionate force to dissipate peaceful demonstrators in the Gezi Park protests of last summer. “And what happened? Foreign capital did not leave Turkey. And the business world kept on its practices as if nothing had happened. Looking at all these, you may think that such things are not important for the economy. But economic success depends on a wide and sound political base. Foreign investors may not leave your country just because there is pressure on the media or journalists are jailed,” Acemoglu stated, and added that Turkey will pay the price of its government’s increasing pressure on the media in the long run when its economy collapses after foreign investors are disturbed by the pressure and begin to withdraw from the country.

Asked if there is a link between press freedom and economic growth, the professor replied yes even though there is no research to prove the link. “I say yes. With the free press, I mean the press that is free from both interference of politics and the monopoly of a single family and holding. Such press serves as a mechanism to monitor the use of power by political bodies. And such monitoring is crucial for economic growth.”

Turkey, which was recently criticized for its government’s increasing interference in the media and its outlets, was recently downgraded from “partly free” to “not free” in Freedom House’s “Freedom of the Press 2014” report. According to the watchdog, the biggest decline in press freedom in Europe took place in Turkey.

“Constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and expression are only partially upheld in practice, undermined by restrictive provisions in the criminal code and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Turkey remained the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2013, with 40 behind bars as of Dec. 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ],” said the report, which was released on May 1.

Acemoglu, who is a member of the Turkish Academy of Science, invented such concepts as inclusive and extractive institutions. Inclusive institutions provide more productive incentives and a more equal distribution of political power while extractive institutions are used to define where an elite controls the economic and political system to use its power to extract wealth from the society.

According to the professor, a political party’s victory at the ballot box is not enough for the emergence of extractive institutions. “Majoritarian democracies or democracies which lack mechanisms of self-control lead to the emergence and strengthening of extractive institutions. For this reason, a result to come out of the ballot box is required but not enough for democracy,” he stated. He also said when Turkey managed to fight off military tutelage, it also managed to become a more democratic country but failed to strengthen its inclusive institutions.

When asked if Turkey is moving toward having inclusive or extractive institutions, Acemoglu said it took big steps toward having extractive institutions until recently, but he said he was not sure if it is doing the same thing. “There are many institutional problems in Turkey, particularly in the fields of freedom of expression and press and independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

These fields have received very serious blows recently. I don’t want to be pessimistic. Turkey is going through a period for the restoration of balance among institutions. And in the meantime, the power shifts away from the military, big holdings and state bureaucracy to other circles of the society.”

The professor also said institutions in Turkey will grow in time and this will not happen thanks to the strengthening of a political party or the replacement of a political party with another. “I am talking about an institutional structure that is controlled by the civil society and stands at an equal distance to all political parties, labor branches and bureaucrats,” he added.

In addition, Acemoglu said the government should strengthen judicial independence to fight any structure that seeks to seize the power of the government, if any such structure exists, instead of tightening its grip on the judiciary or reassigning thousands of members of the police force and hundreds of prosecutors and judges.

“The judiciary in Turkey has never been totally independent from the state or governments. The government cannot be right in actions to dismiss police officers, prosecutors and judges. If the government is doing this, then the governments to succeed may do the same. Then how can we talk about the accountability [of governments?] Are politicians above the law?” he asked.