Where is the theater?
Talking at news conferences, taking questions from journalists have become a rather unaccustomed affair for the Turkish government elite. Either selected and well-behaved media representatives are invited to the plane of the president, prime minister or the foreign minister or better special broadcasts are made from the palace if and when the nation was wanted to be briefed on any development.
Another interesting practice of this period are the visits of the ministers to the news desks of the semi-official Anatolia News Agency or the state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). Naturally, there are of course journalists who perhaps would risk their job, like this nasty writer, and object the visiting ministers bending the truth to their taste but these are not such times. A reporter or agency executive who might indulge in such “adventures” might find himself at the Silivri concentration center for a long period on charges of belonging to a subversive gang.
Taking questions is a very difficult for the ruling elite. How dare journalists ask questions to ministers? That reminded me something that I underwent back in 1980, days after the military takeover. I was a young and unexperienced journalist. Together with a senior journalist we were assigned to cover the first press conference of the coup prime minister retired admiral Bülent Ulusu. Assuming that journalists ask questions I was puzzled why no one attempted to ask anything. I raised my hand, the premier implied with his hand that he wanted me to ask my question – so I assumed. I asked my question and he answered. When I returned to newspaper my boss was in front of the paper with a red face. “How dare you ask a question to the premier? Who are you?” he yelled. “Was I not supposed to ask question” I murmured like a scared little kitten. My boss was a very much respected veteran of the profession. He realized the oddity. “The prime minister was upset with your question. He asked me fire you. Thank God, I am a journalist and appreciate your work. You will be punished with three months office work. You won’t go out,” he said. Those were the military rule times and such oddities were somehow routine of the day.
Now we have a rather atypical period unlike to those years when journalists were touring the country in the same busses with party leaders, eating whatever was offered at same village floor tables and staying at chubby rural hostels. Once on an election tour of the Aegean region, at a Denizli hostel, an inexperienced journalist approached to late President Süleyman Demirel, presented some pages and asked whether he liked the analysis he wrote on the trip. The small restaurant of the hostel was packed with journalists, most of them giants of the profession. Demirel look deep into the eyes of the journalist. “My young friend,” he said “I will read your article in your paper tomorrow and I am sure I will enjoy it.” It was a good lesson as regards the distance a journalist must maintain with his source.
I was thinking all these yesterday when almost all television channels were broadcasting the justice minister’s briefing to the journalists at the Anatolia news room. He was complaining that Turkey was faced with a “theatrical” situation, a “black comedy” was being staged. He said on one hand the members of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Gang (Fetö) were staging a show at a New York court house while on the other hand the main opposition party (that the president has started to refer to as “main treason party”) was talking about fraud, tax evasion, favoritism and such charges to defame the president and his family.
The journalists in the room were silently and in full respect were listening the oration of the minister as if he was representing a sacrosanct power. Which one resembled a theater? The court house in New York or the Anatolia news room?
I am confident there were thunderstorms, hurricanes deep in the hearts and minds of those journalists who were incapacitated with conjectural conditions of the country from asking questions to a minister at such a time when the president and the government have been under a bombardment of some very important charges at home and abroad.