Why does the big media not have its former power?
HASAN CEMALThe former power of media does not exist anymore; it has shrunk, one could say. Today, there is only a media that generally salutes the political power or one that acts exceedingly well-behaved.
Media, but which media?
Apart from the exceptions, I am referring to the “big media,” in other words, the “central media.”
The border is now drawn by the ruling Justice and Development Party (Ak Party); the red lines are determined by them. The last word, though, is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s.
Is there any doubt on this? Especially among my colleagues? I don’t think so.
There is no dispute in this respect. The strength and the influence of power centers over media is a generally accepted phenomenon, or a fact, since long ago.
It wasn’t like this in the past.
How long ago?
Since the Ak Party won the elections at the end of 2002 and formed a one-party government, the big media started losing its power.
At the beginning, it was not aware of this. It thought it would continue with its old habits. However, in time, it started feeling the power of the government.
How did this transformation happen?
This question stuck in my mind last week during the round table meeting titled “The Role of Media in Conflict,” organized by the Democratic Progress Institute (DPI) in Istanbul.
I made this analysis:
1. Big press, big media, once upon a time, used to play the “balance game” among power centers very well; it was aware of its power.
2. As for power centers, it was primarily the political power (government), the opposition, the military and the major business world that were on stage.
3. The big media sometimes leaned on the government, sometimes on the opposition. If it was desperate, it would go the General Staff to intimidate the government or to make the government reach certain decisions.
4. Sometimes the media would make alliances with the big business world – and within this context covertly showing the “military stick”- it would impose certain demands on the government.
5. On one hand, the diversity of power centers and the weaknesses of the coalition governments – for example during the 1990s – would add even more to the media’s power.
6. The media, during the whole of this power game, would generally consider the military above blame and would not question “military tutelage.” It would take care not to step on the “red lines” that condemn Turkey to a second class democracy. This would make the media’s cards very strong against the government.
7. In the first 10 years of the 2000s, the media started losing its former power, because the power centers in Ankara were now vanished and one power center, the Ak Party government with Prime Minister Erdoðan was on stage.
8. The military that the media could use or sometimes lean on was not present any more. The opposition was unusually ineffective and was in no way an alternative to the government. The big business world ducked before Tayyip Erdoðan, moreover it was fractionally scared. Separately, the fact that the economy was doing well played a role in the general silencing of the business world.
Now, after such an analysis, you may ask me this question: Do you want to see the “military” back in the game of politics so that the equilibrium is reformed, or that the media regains its former power?
There are those who want this, who seek “military checks” on democracy. I am not one of them. I am a journalist who had to deal with the military’s checks of democracy a lot in the past.
However, there is also a civilian check on democracy alongside the military check.
I believe it bodes no good with regards to democracy that political power is concentrated in a single hand, as it is today.
The media shaking itself, the opposition shaking itself and the business world shaking itself are good for the safety of democracy; it is also good for the Ak Party for it to shake off its “power arrogance.”
Hasan Cemal is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on May 4. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.