Finally, an awakening on media

“…notes with concern that most media are owned by and concentrated in large conglomerates with a wide range of business interests ; reiterates its call for the adoption of a new media law addressing, inter alia, the issues of independence, ownership and administrative control…”
The excerpt is from the European Parliament Resolution on Turkey, adopted yesterday. It comes as follows a series of concerns and notes on the legal restrictions of Turkish laws and widely applied self-censorship.I am relieved that the awareness on the root causes of immense problems that concern Turkey’s media has now started to reach the important corners of the world. It feels like progress, in the name of truth.

It finally succeeded in ringing strong alarm bells with the help of the Hasan Cemal/Milliyet case, and the arbitrary sacking of another respected colleague, Amberin Zaman, from daily Habertürk. These types of things have happened before, and more are to come, for certain. As Turkey’s grave issues with media have piled up, with prosecutions and punitive measures on professional conduct and public dissent, I have together with a handful of colleagues consistently argued the following:

“Do not make believe that the unjustified jailing of some journalists — such as Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık – or many Kurdish activist/editors-reporters — is the only issue which should concern us. Implementation of laws, such as the Anti-Terror Act, is only the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, there are a huge amount of issues concerning media independence, which is at least as important as freedom, because lack of it means lack of freedom. We should develop therefore a holistic view, which exposes the root causes of the gangrene that has been eating up the so-called “big media,” controlled by moguls who are also involved in other big business besides media.” Today, they control over 80 percent of the sector.

The problem with some colleagues was that for them the political animosity and ideological allergy towards the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had a much higher, defining priority than the overall problems strangling free and independent journalism: they seemed to be much more engaged in writing about the legal cases about their employer’s tax evasion than the question why those very moguls had chased out trade unions from their media outlets and why there was virtually no independent coverage of corruption or no investigative journalism in Turkey since early nineties.

Two linked events came to prove my point. Not even the editor of Milliyet could conceal the fact that he was forced by the proprietor to sack a veteran colleague, Cemal, because he was discussing journalism in his column, and days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed that the very proprietor, Erdoğan Demirören, had asked him (earlier) who to appoint as the editor for Milliyet, which he had purchased. (Pictured below, Erdoğan Demirören poses together with Prime minister Erdoğan. On right, Demirören’s son, Yıldırım. Holding a t-shirt they gave to the PM.)

Görsel

For those who remained unconvinced, there needed to come a direct statement by President Abdullah Gül, shaming the proprietors for submission to powers. “You shall resist, my fellow!” he said recently, in an unusually angry mood.

As well as the media chapter on EU’s Turkey Report, the manifesto of freedom by the influential Writers and Journalists’ Foundation (JWF) could not have been more timely. It is obvious that a tipping point in democratic patience has been reached, and a correct, bold diagnosis, naming the root causes, was detailed in the manifesto.

The sheer fact that there were only a very few newspapers and TV channels that “dared” cover the JWF statement is a powerful enough confirmation in itself as to what really are the real problems with the media freedom, and independence, of today’s Turkey.

“Political agents’ oppression of the media and media owners’ collaboration in this oppression, prioritizing their commercial interests or using their power as means for blackmail, represent an intervention in freedom of the press. Journalists need to take a stance against such pressures, defending the honor and principles of their profession,” reads the statement. “The commercial affairs and governmental affairs of media owners should not restrict of freedom of the press.”

Let us repeat again: unless the owners do not stand in defense of media freedom, and keep obeying powers and greed, Turkish media will never be free, nor independent.

No matter how many colleagues one releases from prison.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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