Experts' Opinions

Faruk Bildirici,
Turkey

 

 

 
I feel like I have a splinter in my finger. I cannot see it but my fingers start to ache each time I touch the keyboard.  This is the kind of ache, which comes from deep inside, hitting my heart and extending to my brain.
I move my fingers off the keys and start thinking about them. I can touch them, I can type. However, not just one, five or ten but a total of 65 colleagues of mine cannot touch those keys.  They have been in jail for years and they cannot write anymore. Remembering them is giving me a deep sorrow.
Certainly I am not the journalist in Turkey who is sharing this sorrow.  Professional (occupational) organizations have gathered together and established the "Freedom for Journalists" Platform. Journalists and writers have hit the streets after a very long time in this country.  Last March, several marches were organized in a number of cities; primarily in Ankara and Istanbul. The hearings of prosecuted journalists had been followed closely to support them and they had been visited in jail. Indeed an "Arrested Daily Newspaper" consisting of articles sent by those imprisoned journalists was published, which was very rich in content and could hardly be found in any other country. (*)
With all these attempts, the release of journalists under arrest and changes in the regulations hindering freedom of communication were demanded. Every protest and attempt was a reminder to the Turkish people: " Where there is free press there is a free society".
 
This reminder was not for nothing. Additionally, we are not worried because journalists are being arrested while performing their profession and kept in prison for many years. We are concerned because of the government's (ruling party's) approach to the media and its practices. We are aware of the fact that the structural problems of media, its ownership structure and the general perception of journalism have been laying the groundwork for the ruling party's plans.
What we have been going through today reminds me of the one party period. I do not know of any other text that explains (documents) the single party system's perception of journalism as clearly as this. I found this text in Emine Usakligil's book "My Republic". In the book there was a quote from the CHP Statute. The 160th article titled "Rules that party member journalists should abide" is as follows:
"Articles in newspapers and magazines owned by party members and their publications shall be reviewed in accordance with the principles of the party. Meetings are organized with party member journalists, magazine owners and authors to reach consensus in this direction. Party members, cannot make publish publications in their newspapers, magazines and press against the party program and statute, general framework of internal and external politics and higher interests of the state. "
This was the ruling authority's understanding of press during the period after Ataturk passed away: Newspapers and journalism that would stem from internal and external politics within the framework of the party program. This type of journalism was in effect to a very large extend. Majority of the media bosses were already supporters of CHP and they had internalized the policies of the ruling authority. Newspapers were bulletins captioning the words of the National Chief and journalists were the members of the choir praising/ flattering the rulers of the country.
In any case, those who would not disagree with this choir had no chance of survival. The iron fist of the government was ready to hit anyone who would dare to criticize. The single party government deemed all forms of pressure legitimate be it censor, jail, closing newspapers and appropriation.
We have to admit that those who ruled Turkey at that time would not talk about democracy. Nobody would claim that there existed free press and journalists free to write as they will. Everyone was aware of the fact that newspapers were guarding the system rather than reality.
Although press has become more versatile and turned into media through radios, TVs and internet sites in today's World, it is still hard to say that it is well functioning  as a guardian of reality. On top of that, if all the castles of media have been captured by AKP, it is not because the Government has made it a priority to fight against the media. When AKP was first elected as ruling party, there had already been serious structural problems in media.
The establishment of Tayyip Erdogan's political party coincided with the collapse of central parties and this helped the rise of AKP. During the same period media had serious problems.
The primary structural problem of media is the ownership structure. Starting from 1980s those newspaper owners who would only deal with publishing had to draw away from the sector one after the other.  Businessmen who had investments in various sectors filled that gap. For these new owners newspapers were no different from a bank or insurance company. They would view press as profit and loss account rather than a public duty.
From a different perspective, newspapers could be considered to get stronger when they became part of larger holding companies and more capable of rising up against certain power groups within society. However, this was not the case. On the contrary, newspapers became weaker against those groups and especially the political power. Although these businessmen had good intentions they also had certain weaknesses against the political power. The newspapers were made to pay for mistakes of group companies.
This structural change of ownership in media coincided with the period of technological transformation. In a short while, the new type media owners also became owners of radios, TV channels and ultimately internet sites. Certain bosses were not satisfied with just one newspaper and TV channel which led to formation of media cartels.
While media's new structure took its final form in 1990s, it gained new functions other than conveying the truth to the society. On one hand it started to tackle structuring of society and social engineering where on the other hand it became an arena where predominant ideologies were reproduced.  While concepts like democracy, human rights, women rights were under emphasized even the bloody war in southeast that mainly military but security forces all together have pursued was not investigated. New media as a secret player of power games has also supported military's games behind the curtain.
The economy pages started to pay more attention to businessmen rather than news that would impact larger community and issues related to trade unions and labor. They became a part of home advertising and public relations sectors. The primary concern was to stimulate consumption and praise achievements of businessmen.
These new approaches brought along an elitist (selective) understanding of journalism. This understanding of journalism resembled the "site journalism" concept of the US in 1930s and it was stuck in Istanbul ; distant from the Turkish Society, could not get the pulse of the Turkish people and keep up with the changes.
Although the presence of deeper state had been questioned after a certain car accident in Susurluk , also known as the Susurluk Accident, these efforts did not last long.  With the journalism structure of that period it could not continue for a long while anyway.  The central media also became a part of the February 28th Period, which followed that. They were not expected to act in a different manner either. The media, which had always been a part of deeper state and spokesperson of their illegitimate activities, had no intentions to struggle against the ruling power.  They could not stand up against the army's pressure during that period as well.

Tayyip Erdogan has right at a certain point. The media had not helped him to become the prime minister. On the contrary, he got political power despite the media of that time. He has never forgotten that and never hesitated to express that openly.
" We have sufficient power to fight against the media which considers itself a part of the opposition. We have no fear of ideological attacks. We became the ruling political party while struggling with the media which considered us incapable of governing a village.  We got our political from you our people but not the media. We would never be thankful to anyone or assume protection from any party or suppress the opposition using such methods.
Erdogan is a politician whose priority is to empower his political mission and position. Starting from 2002 from the first day he was first elected as the Prime Minister, he started to strive against the media. His purpose was to create his own media.
We can easily say that he has accomplished this goal over the past 9 year period. How could he do that? Through his 3 period, he has been successful in transferring capital to businessmen close to him.  One role of those rising businessmen was to contribute to the transformation of media. Some of them founded newspapers, TV channels and radio channels and some acquired existing media organs through various methods.
Owners of those media organs that were not sold had been subject to pressure from the government in an open or covert manner. Tax penalties worth billions of dollars were used as a tool to serve this purpose. Prime Minister Erdogan was not satisfied with this and targeted writers and journalists directly.
Correspondents and photo correspondence who are directly covering ruling party are limited in activity. Correspondents who wrote news that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is not happy with, lost their accreditations. The correspondents and columnists who are going to cover President and prime minister are chosen by themselves.

But real transformation has started in 2008 with the Ergenekon Case and following cases Ergenekon.  This has initially started as cleaning up the "deep state" , "military protection" and anti "coup d'état" attempts. But it turned out to be in short time to be opposition hunting.  Gang members with "dark" activities, opposition, journalists, soldiers all of them are combined together and demonstrated as a single organization.

Stoping militaries' influence on policy making, that had deserved praise in terms of jurisdiction unfortunately became suddenly the law of illegitimacy. Neither democracy developed nor deep states dark activities are enlighten as it was claimed, and responsible of such activities couldn't be sent to trial. In every occasion "those who try to pull leg of ruling party"..! were all the targeted by the jurisdiction and security forces. It is interestingly prosecutors and judges who are totally dependant to the government were chosen to decide who were acting democratically and who were acting illegally.
This also gave power to the police forces as they have already sided with religious groups. They became the main actor of this witch hunting by modern technological tools at phone and environment listening operations. Prior arresting people, they served the recordings of these listening to the papers which have close publication to government in order to diminish credibility of such people. These people are announced guilty with no juridical decision in front of public opinion.
During these operations, too many journalist have also been put in the jail. Although there was no evidence that they are member of terrorist organization. On one hand They are accused of being a member but all the questions at the prosecutors' office were about the books and news that they have written. Journalistic activities were considered as crime, while "vilifying the government" was the biggest crime of all!
People put in jail did not have a chance to learn their "crime" for years. The accusations became tool to keep people in the jail for long time while they had no substantial content but full of many unrelated papers.
Hanefi Avci, who formerly was chief of police and also commonly known to have tortured leftist groups as well as has devoted his life to struggle with left organizations also has been accused of being member of the same terrorist organization. Even Avci couldn't defend himself and he is in jail for more than one year.
The government that can not tolerate any opposition made police to stop protestors like environmentalist, jobless workers, students defending rights, Kurdish protestors  by using force.
In this environment, government did not only pushed back the media owners but also scared journalists. As a result, there is a division between journalists. One side praises al the activities of the government as they were their spokesperson while other side is hidden in a corner with no power at all. It has also lost its connection with people. We call it "press at the center"
How much democracy can develop here under these conditions and how much media can inform people about the realities? For the moment, I am not very optimistic about the future.


(*) Arrested Daily Newspaper
Turkish journalists syndicate published on 24 July 2011 a newspaper called "Arrested Daily Newspaper".  Arrested 39 colleagues have found chance to write at this "special" newspaper.  Headlines of those articles is already very sorrowful. There is a list of writers and their articles below:
Baris Pehlivan: I interviewed my self.
Musa Kurt I have not seen the court yet
Ali Bulus: Defendin pres freedom
Ahmet Sik: This article may disturb you
Soner Yalçin: Am I witness or accused
Miktat Algül: Turkey is surrounded
Tuncay Özkan: being a journalist in opposition after AKP
Mustafa Gök: I'ma arrested in February 2004
Deniz Yildirim: Press is free for who
Nedim Sener: you call Ergenekon Ergenekon. Look you are in Silivri now.
Füsun Erdogan: why are we at jail?
Seyithan Akyüz : Accusation can not change reality?
Vedat Kursun: Being a Kurdish journalist.
Faysal Tunç: Thinker or commando?,
Sedat Senoglu: so we learnt that we were not journalist.
Rohat Emekçi: I'm kept in prison for a tragicomic reason.
Fazil Duygun: I'm in prison for more than 5 months.
Bayram Namaz: Fish on the stall,
Mehmet Yesiltepe: why we should not expect democratization from AKP,
Müyesser Yildiz: the media without syndicate is arrested
Bedri Adanir: Tell them not to shoot the kite
Hatice Duman: why we are in prison
Halit Güdenoglu: we do not know the accusation
Ozan Kilinç: Mazlum is tortured at the age of 160
Suzan Zengin: we should speak loudly about our request to abolish special courts and laws against terror.
Cihan Gün: Article from cell.
Murat Ilhan: "Negari,"
Baris Terkoglu: from which activities journalists are arrested?
O.Baha Okar: Dark side of the punishment. Accusations without evidences but with beliefs.
Sait Çakir: Turkey: open air prison
Mehmet Karabas: Freedom of thinking is changed with the law against terror
Sinan Aygül: One who is scared of you should be like you
Kadri Kaya: Media has societies' eye and ear function.
Hamdiye Çiftçi: Freedom of press has reached its 103 years while we are kept in prison.
Ahmet Birsin: Democatic Constition will prove that he will not become dictator.
Kenan Karavil: Thoughts have soul.

Faruk Bildirici

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He started journalism at 1980's, in the days of military coup. He worked at Cumhuriyet for 12 years where he worked as correspondent for education, estimation and politics and then as news manager. He has been working for Hürriyet since November 1992. He did administrative duties as well as field duties. He wrote articles for weekly Tempo magazine. He did a TV show  called "Çuvaldız" for TV8. After that he made several political TV shows. He nows weekly writes "Puzzle Portraits" and he is the ombudsman of Hürriyet. He has nine books which are mostly biography.