With a mouthpiece like TRT, wave goodbye to democratisation

If anyone these days cares to measure the state of journalism and its role in informing the Turkish public at the critical juncture of the election, a look into the row involving the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) should be sufficient.

Along with the semi-official Anatolia news agency, Turkey’s publicly financed broadcaster seems to have secured its position as the full-scale mouthpiece of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The recent shouting match and the vote at the state regulatory body, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK), reveals how the government maximized its control over the vast TRT network, as part of its campaign for a power grab.

It was Selahattin Demirtaş, presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who raised the alarm. He said that his main rival, Erdoğan, appeared on air for a total of 305 minutes on TRT Türk, while he and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), were completely censored.

According to Demirtaş, the main channel of the public broadcaster, TRT 1, has so far devoted 24 minutes to Erdoğan, two minutes to İhsanoğlu and none to him. He said the news channel TRT Haber broadcast 204 minutes of the prime minister, 80 seconds of İhsanoğlu and 45 seconds of him.

Article 5 of the TRT Law states the corporation is obliged to “produce sufficient broadcasts on subjects of interest to the public in order to enable the healthy and free development of public opinion; produce broadcasts that are impartial; and should not be used as an instrument for the interests of a political party, group, interest group, belief or idea.”

When the issue was brought to the RTÜK, the discussion between the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-affiliated members and the others turned into an ugly shouting match. At the end, the RTÜK voted by a majority of AKP members that the TRT had no bias.
Fierce partisanship blocking journalism is nothing new. The TRT’s test case had been under exposure already during the March 30 elections, when its enormous pro-government stance had led to shocking reports and RTÜK for the first time in its history delivering a warning to the TRT.

To read my latest op column, click here.

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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