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RIGHTS >Government tolerates no criticism: columnist

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

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Mehmet Altan says even friendly criticism has turned unacceptable. DAILY NEWS photo, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

Mehmet Altan says even friendly criticism has turned unacceptable. DAILY NEWS photo, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

The Turkish government has devolved to the point where it can no longer take even friendly criticism from the media, said Mehmet Altan, the former lead columnist for the pro-government daily Star, following his dismissal from his post last week.

“Refraining from criticism comes at the top of the government’s [requirements]. Even friendly criticism has turned unacceptable. Moreover, it no longer suffices merely to applaud sound policies. It is necessary to say that every [undertaking of the government] is a novelty, that all these undertakings are creating a new Turkey and that the entire world fancies us for this reason,” Altan said.

It is not the principles of journalism but political kowtow that guides much of the Turkish press, he said. Those who comply with political authorities’ demands attain position and rank, while others who commit undesirable acts get browbeaten, he added.

“The manner in which the press functions has not changed [...] It is only that political authorities are now directing that system instead of the military which used to operate it to its own advantage. We cannot clarify any of this, however, without talking about the financing of the press,” said Altan, who was dismissed from his post last week due to an interview he gave to the Fırat news agency, known for its alleged links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The press does not earn a living through printing news or from the people, as their expenses far outweigh their sales prices, Altan told the online news portal T24.com.tr.

“[The press] makes its money mainly through trading influence and advertisements. When there is no money to be made through journalism, those who pay fix the rules of the game,” Altan explained.

Advertising

Altan also indicated that advertisers’ choice of newspapers to publish their commercial messages was shaped by political pressure.

“I mean the ads given by those who would not give ads to a certain media outlet under normal circumstances and the ads given perforce by those who fall within the government’s circle of attraction. That is how waste is financed,” he said.

Many critical issues such as the recent law on match fixing, the Uludere incident where dozens of civilians were killed in an air strike and the Lighthouse e.V. charity scandal all receive scant attention in the media, as journalists engage in auto-censuring to avoid drawing the government’s ire, Mehmet Altan added.

February/01/2012

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