I knew this was coming. But I personally didn’t think it would be so radical, so soon.
The change that is sweeping the Turkish media today does come, although somewhat belated, on the heels of the larger tectonic shifts in the global news industry.
For details, the CPJ site on Turkey does provide good material. But here is my previously promised two cents:
The recent purges in Turkish news outlets, I see them as a cleansing of sorts. The fact that the Gezi Park demonstrations paved the way is purely symbolic. It had been sometime that the Turkish mainstream media has been a dysfunctional actor in the journalism arena: inritus irritus. And that for several years, online venues of journalism, good journalism, mostly independent, had sprung up and been effected by the courageous few, whose careers had also been affected by the powers that be. One can never predict the results of an action-reaction accurately, no?
So, the pressure on the Turkish media is nothing new as much as the “auto-censorship” which the veteran journalists (read: archaic columnists) who are now out of a job -or on the brink of- are complaining about is no news. Many of the names that are now out in the street, like fish out of water, looking for ways and means to continue their “profession” are the very same names who have been watching idly as their colleagues were being fired, or forced to resign pretty much throughout the last decade, and as their newspapers, television channels changed ownership at a blinding speed. Most of the ousted are the very same names that were holding onto a ghost of a career, deduced to mere talking heads behind a desk, verbally masturbating against a totalitarian regime, but doing nothing more, at least no real journalism per say. And most of them did watch as their fellow reporters got arrested, beaten up, insulted, discredited. Occasionally a meek finger was raised, a desperate attempt at saving face, which soon got diluted down to a lullaby. Some call this: the good ones have to stay in the system and give the good fight. Well, in the era of digital news, that is a mere: I like my salary and my benefits, and wouldn’t take the plunge in to the unknown, for the good of all. Coarsely put: no valor, pure calor.
Turkey has an awful track record when it comes to imprisoning journalists. The assassinations of an earlier era has now turned into something worse, more dangerous: accusations of treason, attempts at staging a coup, overthrowing the government, and terrorism. Once accused (sometimes even before they are accused) the subject’s house is searched, and “evidence”, any controversial written/recorded material is then gathered and presented at court. This by and all is terrifying. A journalist writes stories based on “evidence.” So, of course that very journalist, if he/she is a true journalist, will have reports and files on all fractions in a society, sensitive documents, interviews in their archive. You cannot write news solely on imagination (although a branch of Turkish news outlets have been increasingly turning to assumptions and imaginations rather than facts.) And to defend your stories at a future date, you cannot destroy what you base your articles/stories on, instead you hold on to that sensitive material. There is a gentleman’s agreement to the “untouchability” of a journalist. Or rather, there should be. Or even rather, there must be. For us, journalists, we are watchdogs for a greater good. Are we not? We are responsible to carry the news, the story, with all aspects, bending over backwards, to the populace – as objectively as possible, without intervention, so people can in turn make up their minds, on their own.
The “objectivity” in Turkish media has always been a sensitive and at times murky area. I can recall numerous discussions with colleagues and friends on this matter. What I say, you may call it naive, is something I sincerely believe in: as a person one may not be utterly objective especially when there are gross violences of human rights, yes, however as a journalist, you step into a completely different state of being. You force yourself to explore the multiple sides of a story, even if it makes your skin curl.
Yet, the columnists are a different breed. And to understand how Turkish media functions, one needs to explore the world of the misused title: the Op-Ed.
And Op-Ed, to the commoner, is an opinion piece. And it is, to a certain extent. Op-ed, or in long form, “opposite the editorial page”, is an open editorial column where the writer blurts out his heartfelt piece on mostly, well, current events. Upon returning to Turkey, I was appalled at the number of opinion pieces, columns (read: opinion pieces) and analysis (read: opinion pieces). This must be what happens when the best in the business are killed and the rest are too scared to leave their desks in case their fate also leads them to an end in the gutter.
Abdi Ipekci, Ugur Mumcu, Ahmet Taner Kislali, are only three examples to the heavy weights of Turkish journalism, of investigative reporting, who have been brutally murdered. One advice which Ipekci gave to his newbies at the paper has been my running motto: “do not bring me a story which you cannot verify by at least three independent sources as news.” Ingenious when one considers today’s tweet-to-me-world of breaking news. Not to mention the current state of Turkish media, or rather “The Public Relations Office of the Turkish Government”. Dare I say, I would rather take a documentary on penguins any day, than be subjected to today’s prime-time news.
Coming back to the dearly fired: the big sexy names of long-time-running Turkish Op-Eds. Most of them had been enjoying early retirement behind their comfy desks, reminiscing long-forgotten fights against the evil forces of autocratic governance. The fate of Yavuz Baydar, heavily scrutinized on the social media, and rightfully so, will nicely sum up what I am saying: merely juxtapose two of his columns, one written in 2011 on the mass detainings of journalists, written in Turkish, the second, on 2013, a cry for help in fear of a similar fate befalling him, and a very belated attempt at redeeming himself: namely an op-ed on the big bucks behind the “journalism” hot-houses of Turkey.
One can only turn so fast in a mere 2 years. But hey, this is the magic behind Gezi.