The smarmy media

The smarmy media

It appears that describing the pro-government media with the modest “allegiant media” description will not suffice, and we will soon have to move on to a more saddening “smarmy media” description.

According to one newspaper, British Prime Minister David Cameron was full of praise for the football talents of Turkey’s new President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Well, one might think that the president will not lead only the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the country with a single-handed mentality but will wholeheartedly sacrifice himself to be the savior of Turkish football. God willing, our colleagues most probably expect that with the president’s exemplary football style, Turkey will conquer all the soccer trophies in Europe, if not the entire world.

The insufficiency of the political opposition has been one of the perennial problems of Turkey’s democracy. There has never been a governance problem in the country since the 1980s, but often - and recently all the time - the absence of a credible opposition has produced democratic deficiencies.

Particularly since 2002, governments have believed that there is no alternative to them. Frankly, how many of Turkey’s social democrats would believe that the current or the former leadership of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), or the grandpa-style leadership of the minor-opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - either alone or together - can solve this chronic illness?

Look at the CHP’s latest convention squabbles. Those who lost the election to secure party assembly membership are now suing the party. Has anyone heard any assessment made about why the CHP, together with the MHP and the Kemalist, nationalist, secular national alliance has not been able to form a rival to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), or why Erdoğan was elected president with almost 52 percent vote in the first round of voting? Or, has anyone heard any strategy for the CHP to come to power in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 10 months’ time?

Opposition parties becoming a “democratic decoration” with no apparent ability to ever enter the contest for power is a serious ailment of the system. It is perhaps one of the reasons why Turkey has advanced so fast in developing a majoritarian system, and has started replacing the “non-partisan president” understanding with an “executive president with links to his party” understanding - or even to presidential governance in some peculiar form.

In this awkward situation for Turkish democratic governance, which indeed might easily slip into dictatorship because of the historical background and tradition of the Turkish people to worship power, an independent media has become all the more important. Naturally, the media should not and cannot play the role of opposition parties, but an independent media fulfilling the duty of watching over the undertakings of the executive, legislative and the judiciary - with a critical eye on behalf of the nation - could indeed become the fourth power ensuring the wellbeing of democratic and transparent governance.

Cameron praising the Turkish president’s football talents of course might be a joke that may find a place somewhere in the media. The real news, however, was the revelation of the same Cameron that, in his talk with Erdoğan on the sidelines of the NATO summit, he saw a Turkish leader very much concerned about the advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Was it not? The real news was reports that Washington was pressing Turkey to actively participate in a “war on Islamist extremism” as part of a local Sunni alliance, was it not? Or, what about additional demands being discussed at a leaders’ summit on the sidelines of the NATO summit, being conveyed to Ankara personally by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel?

Officiously applauding the government and reporting only things that would make the “master” happy - what might be best described as “bootlicking” - cannot be journalism, at least anything universally accepted as such.