Why Hürriyet Daily News has photos of women on its front page

Why Hürriyet Daily News has photos of women on its front page

When Murat Yetkin became the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet Daily News, he introduced two rules among others: The first one being to have, in the right-hand corner of the front page, photos of women, or at least a woman. The concept is not the traditional one of having the picture of a beautiful woman just because she is beautiful; it is to increase the visibility of women who can be role models.

The second is to have at least one woman columnist among the list of columnists on the front page. It has been a policy that Yetkin has never made compromises on and one that has indeed made us receive positive feedback on. “My daughter looks only at the front page of the Hürriyet Daily News, and the first thing she sees is a woman figure at the right-hand side. I really appreciate that,” Danish Ambassador to Ankara Svend Olling has told me.

It is not always easy to find a news article that has a woman character in it and is worthy of being published on the front page.

That’s why when I attended on March 5 a panel organized by Turkey’s top business group on gender equality — or a lack thereof — in TV series, I told the group’s male president, Erol Bilecik, how sorry we were when he replaced his female predecessor, Cansen Başaran Symes, as every time TÜSİAD made a public statement, we were happy to know how to fulfill the right-hand corner of our front page.

The panel discussed the findings of a research commissioned by the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) on the issue of gender equality in TV series. Conducted by two academics from Kadir Has University who analyzed 12 TV series, the research revealed that indeed they reinforced gender stereotypes.

“There is no other sector whose performance is measured on a daily basis. There is a list of 100 best series, while there is no such thing as ‘100 best doctors.’ We need to stay on the game,” producer Birol Güven said, while complaining about the rating system that determines the fate of TV series in Turkey. “We reflect the society,” he added.

During the panel, the fact that Turkey ranked 131st among 144 countries in a World Economic Forum gender gap report was recalled.

But Meriç Demiray, the president of the Scenario Writers Association, reminded that until 2002, TV series which portrayed strong women characters received high ratings. One of them was indeed produced by Güven, who portrayed a working mother challenging her rather macho husband.

“What has changed,” I asked Güven. “If you say you are reflecting the society; have we gone backwards in terms of gender equality?”

“What changed are the families that the rating agencies are using to measure the popularity of a series,” he answered.

“It was easier back then,” said Berfu Ergenekon, who, as a female scenario writer, wanted to respond to criticism directed against her colleagues. “There are ferocious attacks against us. When we screen a scenario in which a man is cooking in the kitchen we get reaction from women saying: ‘What are you talking about? There are no such men in Turkey.’ There was no manipulation of perception in the past. Today, we are asked to write according to the manipulated public perception,” she added.  

It is not a coincidence that Demiray voiced 2002 as a turning point, the year the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. And ever since, there have been speculations over the pressure put on rating agencies, which, according to claims, are asked to choose from lower-income families when they do their measurement rather than what is called group A and B, which are chosen from urban, educated families.

“I have become very suspicious about whether there is manipulation regarding the ratings. I cannot imagine the society is constantly willing to watch war scenes,” said Demiray, complaining about the current situation aggravated by the war in Syria. “But still, even if there is manipulation, it should not push us into non-action. We can still try,” he added.

Oya Ünlü Kızıl from TÜSİAD recalled an American actress’ motto: If she can see, she can be it.

Hürriyet Daily News has for long adopted that policy.

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