Turkish media: Only worse, as the debacle deepens

At this stage of events in Turkey, I am at a loss for words.

It pains me to be a spectator, as all of society is paralyzed, when the delicate process of democratic transition is brutally hijacked by a single politician.

What has happened further with and within the media has led me — in a depressed state of mind — to the depths of my memory.

Let me take you back to what I wrote more than three years ago:

“The media sector in Turkey lost, long ago, its compass and spirit of solidarity. It is now ruled by deep polarization and mutual mistrust. It was a massive pro-militarism hand-in-hand with ‘owner loyalty’ that destroyed what remained of good journalism in the ’90s.”

“Journalists — some of them naively — became tools of power struggles in a sharply complex milieu; others, disguised as ‘journalists,’ were in the service of (secret parts of) the state, bureaucracy and [media] proprietors.”

“It made all of us personally vulnerable, professionally fragile and in desperate need of independence. This state leaves us with a press that is losing its grip on a crucial role in Turkey’s delicate process of transformation into a full democracy.”

“We may continue to discuss only the victims of the recent process, but it is time for the media to confront itself with the root causes of the condition that it is in.”

This was from an article titled “Journalists arrested, media taken hostage” (March 9, 2011), published by Today’s Zaman days after the arrests of my colleagues Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener.

It went on to say:

“Şık is an old friend of mine. I do not have the slightest doubt about his commitment to good journalism, which was proven by his bold work in the weekly Nokta some years ago.”

“Ahmet did continue to work in daily Radikal, and was fired. He fought legally and won his case, but was not allowed to come back [to Radikal]. Many of those who today protest Şık’s arrest are the ones who never reacted then.”

The day after their release, on March 13, 2012, I wrote in an article titled “Nothing but justice”:

“When 58 percent of Turkey voted ‘yes’ to a referendum in September 2010, there was a great expectation that it would speed up judicial reform and swiftly bring justice. Since the referendum, there has been only disappointment. The judicial system, vital in transition processes, has continued to be harmful, instead of being helpful, to transformation. Let everyone now hope that 2012 will be the year of these critical trials.”

I added:

“The release of two colleagues, Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, is the strongest signal yet that Turkey’s chronically ill justice system is acknowledging one of its gravest flaws. … Fewer and fewer of Turkey’s friends have been, with weaker and weaker arguments, able to support Turkey’s policy on human rights, in particular since the June 12 [2011] elections.”

“Şener and Şık’s release precedes the announced reforms to Turkey’s ill-faring judiciary. But it should still be seen as linked to the reforms. The court decided not to wait for the reform [packages] … and issued a statement, which included arguments in favor of the freedom of the journalists. … This is what should have been done, not only in the case of Şık and Şener, but also in other key cases of Ergenekon, Sledgehammer, etc.”

And, at the end of 2014, we are where we are:

In the heart of a debacle, with a judiciary kneeling down and with justice fading away.

I am generally seen as gloomy regarding Turkey, in particular its media, and I regret deeply to be proven right.

The mentality and conditions that years ago led to the imprisonment of journalists have not changed.

It is just that power has firmly and systematically further stifled journalism and repressed free speech, reaching the point of strangulation.

It is just that the list of victims has become longer.

Those that have now become the new symbols of oppression are Ekrem Dumanlı and Hidayet Karaca, two prominent names in the imploding domain of Turkish media.

And even today Turkish journalists — the majority of whom are still fiercely partisan — are at each other’s throats, instead of looking into the root causes of oppression.

When the system finally exterminates all that is good in the name of journalism, only then will they realize — far too late — that what they stood for was one of those causes.

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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