First crack in the ‘new media order’

First crack in the ‘new media order’

Columnist Ruşen Çakır shared some views with readers in his Dec. 5, 2011, piece titled, “A dark interim period.” He had participated at a meeting in Paris at the end of November and argued there that “even if the politicians who govern our country try hard and really wish to, it is impossible for them to build an authoritarian regime in our country.” 

He continued, “No matter what they say, Turkey has an experience of democracy ... that is never to be underrated. And I believe civil society will not allow it to be suspended once again.” 

Oh, I wish I could be as optimistic as my friend Ruşen. I really wish that history proves Ruşen right. 

If we go back to the current situation today, I don’t know at which hotel in Istanbul these people belonging to “civil society” stay or which venues they frequent. If I knew, I would go and make a list of the group called “civil society.” I’m sure it wouldn’t take more than one hour of my time and it wouldn’t be a long list. As a matter of fact, right now, I can put down the names of 40 to 50 people here. 

Whatever. Joking aside, before firmly believing that this civil society will not allow democracy to be suspended once more, it is necessary to ponder how and with which power they would be able to manage this. 
Up until now, we have not had any clues on this matter because the rough construction of the “electoral authoritarian regime” is over. Well, where is the civil society? What have they done up to now in the name of “not allowing,” I wonder. 

To avoid being misunderstood, I have no intension of embarrassing civil society. 

We assume that the exit from the military coup periods under the supervision of the military and the struggle of the autocratic civilians to have absolute power vis-à-vis military-civilian civil servants constitutes our “democratic experiences.” It is because our democratic experience is actually inadequate that civil society has not progressed in this country. And that is the reason why in Turkey the “civil society defenders” are more numerous than civil society itself.

I am not optimistic, but seeing the limits of the new autocrats keeps me from being too pessimistic. 
I count my blessings day and night. 

No, not that we have a “civil society,” but I count my blessings that God has denied oil and natural gas to this country. We should be very happy that thanks to this absence, the new autocrats cannot establish a rentier state order where they can buy the voter, the media and companies and so on with oil revenues. 

Some 60 years have passed, and we have not been able to become a “Little America.” Thank God, we do not have oil. Otherwise, we would have become, God forbid, a “Little Russia” within 10 years. 

The authoritarian regime that emerged after Boris Yeltsin in the giant banana republic that is Russia has been able to “Putinize” the mainstream media with oil and natural gas revenues. All main newspapers and television channels in Russia are now owned by companies affiliated with the natural gas giant Gazprom or by integrated Putinist oligarchs. Even though these enterprises always lose money, their budget deficits are subsidized by surplus energy incomes. And through this, the Putinist media cannot report or perform journalism, they can only make Kremlin propaganda. 

In Turkey, however, “the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) new media order” was supposed to act as a layer of plaster coating the “electoral authoritarian regime,” the rough construction of which has been completed. 

But the plaster has cracked.

The first crack appeared when the “flagship of the new media order,” daily Sabah and the channel ATV, were put up for sale. 

The Çalık Group, at which the son-in-law of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Berat Albayrak, is the CEO, was able to buy Sabah-ATV by taking a pledge to pay an excessive price of $1.1 billion in 2008. 

The rationale of the project was more political than economic; they were to form the main pillar in the media leg of a power strategy. But the high debt burden undertaken for the sake of keeping Sabah-ATV “inside the pro-group” did include serious financial risks and there was no excessive oil revenue to subsidize them forever as in Russia. 

Moreover, the new bosses of Sabah-ATV proved extremely incompetent in maintaining the old Sabah’s prankish, mischievous, intelligent journalism because of their ideological and structural barriers. The newspaper became “the Pravda of the AKP” and has lost a lot of its brand value. 

Now, we will see which brave fellow will undertake the colossal debt load of the pro-government flagship, the actual value of which has really fallen quite a lot. We will see. 

The government that was not able to establish a sustainable “new media order” is now only capable of sorting out the entire media

Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared Jan 12. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

Turkey, media, oppression, press freedom