On Birand, who raised journalistic standards in Turkey
It was 1985 when Mehmet Ali Birand started a monthly TV show in Turkey’s single state channel (TRT) broadcasting environment. Its name was “32nd Day,” broadcast on the last Thursday evening of every month.
“32nd Day” looked like an ordinary TV news program by West European, or North American standards. There was an anchor, a newsman - Birand in our case - presenting the program from a studio with its own logo and design. The main story or interview was covered by the anchor, while exclusive sub-stories from different parts of the world (and country) were covered by reporters working exclusively for the show, rounding up the major events of the past month over the course of an hour. It revolutionized the perceptions of Turkish TV viewers as to what was actually happening outside of the Turkish microcosm; there was simply nothing like it up to then, mostly just East European-standard long and dull interviews with state officials, exclusively giving the official line over and over again.
The value of what Birand did for journalism in Turkey can be understood better by keeping in mind that the political atmosphere was right after the 1980 military coup. With “32nd Day,” Birand not only raised the standards of journalism in Turkey, but also the expectations of TV viewers as well. People discovered that a journalist should not necessarily be impartial when filing a story, but should be objective and give different angles and views about that story by asking the six standard questions of journalism. Birand and his crew traveled to different parts of the world, saying that if this was the kind of stuff Western viewers had been getting for a long time, why should Turkish viewers deserve less?
It was not only the TV news. As an experienced reporter and newspaper journalist, Birand fired up competition among journalists in Turkey by daring to touch sensitive issues like the influence of soldiers on Turkish politics, the Kurdish issue, and raising democratic standards toward European levels. These kinds of issues did not make everyone happy, but he contributed to atmosphere demanding more freedoms, including the freedom of the press in Turkey.
As a man who suffered a lot in his childhood, such as losing his father at the age of one and being raised by relatives, Birand made his way up by working hard and making the proper use of chances given to him by life itself, turning into a legendary figure of the Turkish media. Being from the generation of journalists who envied “32nd Day” and taking him as the journalistic example to aspire to, the author of these lines enjoyed the privilege of being Birand’s editor for his daily commentaries in the Hürriyet Daily News.
“32nd Day” is the longest running TV show (a weekly edition for some years now), presented by Birand on private station Kanal D until Thursday, Jan. 17, when he passed away as a result of cardiac failure, following two years of cancer treatment. Birand died aged 71, leaving behind a wonderful wife, Cemre, a son, a grandson, and an irreversible mark on Turkish journalism.