Hürriyet, the unconquered stronghold of the secular lifestyle

Hürriyet, the unconquered stronghold of the secular lifestyle

Imagine a TV channel. Each night they run a program, where under normal circumstances two or three opinion leaders, experts or scholars should come together to debate an issue. But on this pro-government TV channel, there is a program each night where the participants talk constantly about the Doğan Media Group and the prominent journalists that work for the group. You can obviously guess they do not talk highly about them. But, if you can imagine, the subject of the program each night is another media outlet and their journalists. Only in Turkey! Or at least I have not come across such a phenomenon in the democratic part of the world.

You might think the Doğan Media Group keeps attacking them and that’s why they are defensive. But that’s not the case. On the contrary, we at the Doğan group are on the defensive. We are under constant attack… literally...

Within two days, the Hürriyet building was twice attacked by stones thrown by a mob which tried to enter the premises. One would not expect the same incident to happen two nights later, but it did happen. Why? Because of the culture of impunity. No one was detained by the police the first night. The Turkish police, notorious for showing disproportionate violence to peaceful demonstrators, decided to show mercy to mobs who were not using their democratic right to protest but instead committing a crime by trying to break in to private property.

But it is more than the culture of impunity in practice here. It is worse. There is tacit approval and encouragement on the part of the relevant figures in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as well as in the government. The silence following the first night and the belated limited reactions are a testament to this “you deserve it,” sentiment.

The fact the attack was repeated carries a simple message: “If you think your reactions and the reactions of some domestic and international institutions will discourage us, you are mistaken. We don’t care about the reactions of domestic stakeholders. We could not care less about the statements coming from abroad. Don’t count on them. You are all alone. So you better be careful.”

But interestingly, Hürriyet and all the Doğan media outlets have been careful, actually extra careful, in their reporting. I am not talking about professional standards. Hürriyet tries its best to fulfill all the democratic criteria for journalism. Has it reached the best accepted standards of journalism? To be fair, I can’t say so. It did make mistakes; it does make mistakes. But it faces some of them, questions some others, and ignores yet some others. But it has not been shy of criticizing itself. At any rate, which media outlet in the world is perfect anyway? Hürriyet’s “margin of deviation” is still within internationally acceptable standards.

What I mean is that in view of the extreme hostility, Hürriyet has been extremely cautious and sometimes over cautious on its reporting; so much so that it has been criticized by its readers of not properly doing its job.

Let me add, when the group was sentenced to a tax fine with a historically extraordinary sum, the family had to decide; either they were going to sell Hürriyet or another asset they had. Petrol Ofisi was sold and they decided to keep Hürriyet. In other words, the group was also previously hit financially as well.

But all this financial, political and social bullying seems to not be enough.

It is a fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP do not like the 50 percent who didn’t vote for them. Still, Hürriyet is read only by a tiny fraction of that 50 percent.

What is there this obsession then?

It must be fear. Hürriyet remains the unconquered stronghold of a democratic/secular lifestyle. And as such, no matter how careful and cautious it might be, no matter how sensitive and fragile it might look at certain times, it will continue to be the fifth power and a watchdog over anything and everything concerning Turkey, and that includes the AKP too.

So if even during its worst times Hürriyet continues to “spread fear” among those who have reason to fear, then it must be on the right track. And if there is such fear, then that fear will end up swallowing its owners.