Turkish media in betrayal of democracy
I admit that the title of this column is an assertive one. But, unfortunately, it describes the current state of the Turkish media in the most suitable way. A good majority of journalists are part of this betrayal, some on purpose and some not, but, at the end of the day, that counts for the whole media sector.
It’s a well-established fact that freedom of expression has been deteriorating significantly under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, especially since 2008. The first and most important hit was the world-record three-billion-dollar tax levy issued against the country’s largest media group in the late 2000s for its coverage of corruption allegedly linked with ruling party officials.
That followed the detention and arrest of dozens of journalists as part of ongoing prosecutions on alleged coup attempts and other cases. Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and followed by top government officials, a very strongly worded media-bashing campaign found its place as an important element of ruling party policies, in the meantime. This campaign, fueled by growing intolerance against AKP opponents, also included veiled threats against the media bosses that had to fire some government-critical columnists or TV producers. With the recent victim of this tradition, veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, the number of sidelined or silenced colleagues has reached more than two dozen so far.
Turkey is passing through a landmark transformation with very important processes aiming to solve the Kurdish question, rewrite the Constitution and accelerate the EU process. The role of the media in this process is very, very important in terms of providing sound and correct information to the public. The very essence of the existence of the media is its ability to meet the people’s right to demand accurate information.
A media so under threat that it is exercising self-censorship or underreporting on all of these sensitive issues would not naturally serve for the good sake of democracy. Media, as the fourth power in modern democracies, is the most influential element in building public opinion either for or against the government but always in the service of the public interest.
Those in the media who believe that they are doing the right thing by not questioning government policies are in fact denying the role of free journalism.
It is also a fact that the problem is rather structural because of problematic ownership in the media sector. Those in the government who complained about it a decade ago are now benefiting from it as they successfully manage to create their own media.
An institutional democracy requires institutionalized media. An institutionalized media requires individually and structurally independent journalists both economically and consciously. The contrary could only bring an embedded media with fully dependent journalists on those who have the power. And that is not compatible with contemporary democracy but with old-fashioned authoritarian reigns.