Huge bleeding in Turkish press

Huge bleeding in Turkish press

The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) issued a statement recently, expressing its wish that the “state of emergency in the media be lifted.” 

“The climate of fear over the freedom of press and expression is continuing,” the statement said, adding that especially after the Gezi Park incidents, layoffs from media jobs had accelerated.

If the biggest media organization in the country is mentioning a state of emergency in the media and is also stating that freedom of the press is being rolled back with each passing year, then there is a situation to pay attention to. 

When we review the impact of the Gezi Park resistance on the media, we see that the government has significantly strengthened its support base in the press.

The first dimension of the government reinforcing is apparent in the ownership structure. For example, after the Saving Deposits Insurance Fund (TMSF) seized a media group that stood on an independent media line (Karamehmet), a series of staff replacements changed its editorial direction. Layoffs in pro-government media outlets are the second dimension of the issue. The TGC stated that “at least 100” journalists have been forced to quit. 

There is also a critical aspect that goes unmentioned. When the question is layoffs, the public mostly pays attention to famous journalists and well-known columnists, whereas there is a group that is much bigger in numbers whose names the public do not know. 

Journalists in this group are from all layers of the profession. There are editors-in-chief, news directors, editors, Ankara representatives, supplement editors, interviewers and readers’ representatives among them. As in any similar cutting wave, there are also numerous reporters, including those abroad. Also in the visual media, every level from anchorman to reporter is affected by this wave.

Also, it is wrong to consider that this issue is limited to those who have lost their jobs recently. The wave that hit the press in the summer of 2013 is actually a huge one, but one has to review the picture together with the situation of journalists and columnists who lost their jobs stage by stage before that, especially during the past three or four years. 

The saddest part of the issue is that a huge pool of talent is being wasted. Those who had to quit their jobs were generally veteran journalists. The majority of them have dedicated their entire lives to journalism; numerous colleagues of ours are today unemployed. Except for a limited number, most of them are facing financial difficulties. It is a huge loss for the country to waste such a human capital in the press. 

What do all these things mean? We see that a considerable portion of our colleagues who have lost their jobs either oppose the government or are distanced from the government. However, a portion does not even have a “distance.” They are only not “from that side.” 

The stance of the government circles, the one that cites that all of these things that are happening have nothing to do with them, no doubt, has a credibility problem. We are all witnessing that at least they have no discomfort whatsoever because of this situation unfolding right in front of their eyes, the one that the entire world is also watching. 

Likewise, the repetition of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insistently that “the press in Turkey is freer than it has ever been,” when it stands side by side with these developments looks, well, weird. 

Such a widespread politically related cleanup in the press is a first. Probably, in no period in the history of the republic have so many columnists been eliminated. This should probably set a record for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) era. 

One of the significant outcomes of the Gezi Park resistance is the new meaning the “penguin” concept has gained in Turkish, apart from defining a bird species at the South Pole. However, the situation attributed to a portion of the press with this definition did not emerge overnight; it was shaped after a long process that was also the result of serious government practices. And in that process, a wide portion of the public has opted to remain as a bystander before these practices. 

At the stage we have reached today, again, while such a huge loss of blood is being experienced in the press, the section that complains of penguins the most is watching what is happening from afar. That means that the problem is not a penguin issue only. There is also an ostrich issue. 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept 7. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.