This one is the news story Turkish media will obstinately pretend it doesn’t exist

Nobody in the large crowd disagreed with Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chairman of the Pro-Kurdish party, HDP.

Speaking at a protest rally in Diyarbakır the day after two mayors of the city were arrested, he mentioned the total lack media coverage, saying:

‘All the opposition channels are now seized. I see now media workers, reporters recording the event, but take it for granted that their headquarters because of their fear will never broadcast or publish what has been taking place here,’ he said, to wild applause and boos.

He was right. Once more, as part of a practice of journalism now standardized in Turkey, neither the series of events nor his speech were covered and shared with the public.

The blackout was a fact; not for the first time, nor for the last.

As a matter of fact, this is just an example in how dark Turkey has become in domain of information. Censorship, endless stream of publicity bans, open threats and attacks by the  pro-government figures, black-outs of internet and social media now all successfully block independent journalism from properly, albeit minimally, serve the public interest.

Since Gezi Park protests that in May-June 2013 spread in almost all of Turkey’s 81 provinces, the prime task of Erdoğan has remained to intimidate, shackle, silence and punish the media. He knew, of course, what he was doing and the history proved him victorious in his priority.

In three years, Turkey’s problematic, largely corrupt media sector, and fragile ground of journalism was conquered, subordinated and made inefficient by the sheer power he represents. After a tumultous three years, approximately 9.000 journalists are without jobs – about 2.000 of them sacked after Gezi events, and roughly another 3.000 after the coup attempt, according to union figures – and all is left to media groups and companies which are either directly linked to the AKP government, or dependent on its ‘financial mercy’.

Add to this, a destructive pattern that since 2015 targeted the diversity of the media, as more than 178 private companies and outlets were seized, partly after police raids, their staff dismissed by the government appointed trustees, their assets were taken over in circumstances that critics label as ‘looting’. This pattern destroyed the media that belonged to Gülen Movement, as well as Kurdish Political Movement, and Alevi social groups and leftists.

The end result shows that Erdoğan, who today is depicted as Enemy of Free Journalism # 1 in international context, more or less achieved his goal: Disloyalty to the main standards and ethics of journalism is now at its peak in Turkey, where failure to report the truth with a critical mind, lack of free comment and diverse public debate is almost total.

Those of you who are intested in getting into details of how this sad story unfolded, may download and read my extended report I prepared as Shorenstein Fellow, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, titled ‘Newsroom as Open-Air Prison: Corruption and Self-Censorship in Turkish Journalism’.

A German translation of the same report is also available here.

The speed of the downfall was so high, that my extended coverage of the course of events now only serve as a background. For years, approximately since the late 1990’s, I had argued that the lion’s share of the problem with the convulsions of journalism stemmed from the media’s ownership structures.

I witnessed the pattern to be consolidated as the time went, and the the so-called ‘maisntream’ media coverage during Gezi Park unrest, known for its penguin documentary broadcast as an excuse to ignore it, was one of the final blows.

I argued, in a New York Times op-ed piece, then, that, had the media proprietors stood for their honorable employees to report and comment freely, Turkey would be able to embrace the notion of democracy, and be better equipped to fight for a free order. It was the grand deceit of the moguls and proprietors who sold out the future of their country by offering the journalists as prey for the political wolves – by sacking them en masse – simply for greed, and for more lucrative public contracts.

I knew, at the same time, that the downhill trend was completely unstoppable. The ‘dirty’ alliance between Erdoğan and the AKP at one side and subservient media employers has proved to be rock solid, due to strong mutual interests in influence and money, and also the fact that only 4 % of Turkey’s journalists are (dare to be) members of trade unions, as well as ‘vertical management culture’ spoke for my pessimism.

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Time passed only endorsed it. A brand new study by two young and utterly brave colleagues of mine, Elif İnce and Burcu Karakaş, exposes, with updated, fresh data, the almost total shackling of the media through their owners, depicting a sector profoundly stained by non-transparent owner structures, and corruption.

Apart from direct censorship, and world-record number of jailing of journalists – now, 133 of them – İnce/Karakaş report offers a picture of a rotten state of a profession which in its core is noble by its role on public service.

Its unspoken conclusion becomes very clear in each and every section, that Turkish media left its public in a sort of ‘blind man’s bluff’ – blindfolded in pitch-black darkness, to make sure -, that there is absoutely no ground left for a segment of 90 % in the sector to neither demand transparence from the state/government, nor cover corruption or any form of power abuse credibly. Because we now face a case, in Turkey, where the Fourth Estate is part of the systemic decay, which deepens Turkey’s crisis every day.

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Ince/Karakaş report is a result of the joint project “Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) Turkey”, run by IPS Communication Foundation/ bianet and Reporter Ohne Grenzen, the German wing of RSF (Reporters without Borders).

‘How can people evaluate the reliability of information, if they don’t know who provides it?’ the report asks.

‘How can journalists work properly, if they don’t know who controls the company they work for? And how can media authorities address excessive media concentration, if they don’t know who is behind the media’s steering wheel?’

The results of this apparently ardous research, #momturkey, can be viewed on the website of the project.

Ardous, because, as my colleagues told in a press conference, the hardest part was to get data from these media companies, and many of them simply refused, saying, ‘it is a company secret’. This only added to their suspicion about manipulation of circulation and rating figures, as well as ‘who really owns what’ part in media sector.

‘The distribution of public funds on advertising for example, being one existentially important source of income for smaller papers, remains hidden. MOM’s request on this topic was turned down by the Turkish Right to Information Assessment Council, citing “trade secrets” as a reason. The same happened with a request regarding Turkey’s state-owned broadcaster’s (TRT) finances’ they added in their conclusions.

In the MOM online database, ownership structures of the most important media outlets in Turkey are displayed and traceable to individuals, whose political and economic interests are also displayed.

Here are the major findings:

  • The majority of media owners are active in other industrial sectors, such as energy, transport and construction and depend on the government for public contracts in these sectors.
  • In Turkish television, still the most relevant type of media, seven of the ten most important owners are politically affiliated with the ruling party.
  • Among the shareholders of companies that own the top 40 media outlets, most are commercial corporations. The conglomerates they own (Doğan, Doğuş, Demirören, Ciner, Albayrak, Turkuvaz/Zirve/Kalyon, İhlas and Ethem Sancak companies) operate in sectors such as construction, energy, mining and tourism.
  • Some of them, such as the Albayrak group, Turkuvaz/Zirve/Kalyon group, İhlas group and Doğuş have won major public tenders in the past few years, ranging from the third airport to metro construction and urban redevelopment projects on a neighbourhood scale.
  • The owners of these companies, at the very least, have their political interests closely tied to their economic interests, which is to maintain and increase their investments, possible only if they keep on good terms with the ruling party.
  • Among the shareholders of companies that own the top 40 media outlets, most are businessmen. The conglomerates they own (Doğan, Doğuş, Demirören, Ciner, Albayrak, Turkuvaz/Zirve/Kalyon, İhlas and Ethem Sancak companies) operate in sectors such as construction, energy, mining and tourism.
  • Doğan group is the only major player in mainstream media who publishes a considerable amount of critical content, and thus is targeted often by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The family also has major investments outside the media, though, unlike the other conglomerates, they haven’t taken (or been granted) major tenders from the government in the recent years.
  • Disregarding Doğa, the rest of the seven groups that own other major businesses (Doğuş, Demirören, Ciner, Albayrak, Turkuvaz/Zirve/Kalyon, İhlas and ES) publish almost half out of the top 40 media outlets compiled by MOM according to their audience shares. Among the top 40 media outlets, they own 7 newspapers (Sabah, Türkiye, Takvim, Habertürk, Milliyet, Yeni Şafak, Güneş ), 4 TVs (ATV, A Haber, SHOW TV, Star TV, NTV) 4 radios (A Haber Radyo, Kral FM, NTV Radyo, TGRT FM) and 4 websites (sabah.com.tr, milliyet.com.tr, haberturk.com, gazetevatan.com).
  • It can be said that these media outlets openly support the government, President Erdoğan and the ruling party, instead of engaging in critical, objective journalism.
  • Top 5 owners in TV share more than half of the entire audience. It is the pro-government Turkuvaz Media that reaches the largest audience share in this market (12.04%). The mainstream Dogan Media comes second with 10.82% of the shares of the audience and state run TRT third with 10.52% of the audience. Doğuş Media Group, the executives of which are considered to be in direct talks with the government regarding the management of their TV channels, hold 10,15% of the TV audience in Turkey. The pro-government Ciner Media Group holds 8.63%.
  • The radio sector in Turkey shows a medium concentration in terms of audience, with the major 4 companies reaching almost 40% of the audience. A large part (21%) of the radio audience in Turkey is held by Doğuş Media Group, the owners and executives of which are thought to be directly answering to the government regarding the management of the media group. Power Media, which is powerful only in the radio, sector holds 15% of the listeners. State run TRT channels hold 11%. The largest media group in Turkey, Dogan Media, holds 10% of radio listeners.
  • The distribution data of print media in Turkey is an issue of large debate, as the circulation shares of most print outlets are found to be inconsistent and unreliable by many experts
  • After exhaustive research regarding the “real” circulation numbers, the MOM team in Turkey finally accepted the official numbers as fact. According to these numbers, print media circulations are highly concentrated with four major owners holding 57% of readership. These are Doğan (22), Turkuvaz Media (15), Esmedya (12) and Estetik Media (10).
  • The cross-media audience shares were calculated according to the influence of different media sectors on the public in Turkey. According to research by Reuters Academy, 80% of the people in Turkey rely on the TV for news. whereas 54% use print media and 41% use radio to access news.
  • Top 5 owners in TV share more than half of the entire audience. It is the pro-government Turkuvaz Media that reaches the largest audience share in this market (12.04%). The mainstream Dogan Media comes second with 10.82% of the shares of the audience and state run TRT third with 10.52% of the audience.
  • Doğuş Media Group, the executives of which are considered to be in direct talks with the government regarding the management of their TV channels, hold 10,15% of the TV audience in Turkey. The pro-government Ciner Media Group holds 8.63%.
  • State-run televisions (TRT channels) and the state news agency (Anadolu Agency) are highly politicized. Prior to the November 2015 general elections, the TRT has reserved 30 hours of broadcast to AKP, additional 29 hours to President Erdogan himself, but only 5 hours to opposition party CHP, 1 hour to opposition party MHP and only 18 minutes to opposition party HDP. A nine hour long broadcast from an AKP congress was one gross examples of the TRT transgressing the ethics set by the Supreme Election Council.

 

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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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