“Native and national journalism” in Turkey

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Translated by Helin Sayan

10th January is the “day of the working journalists”, in Turkey, but we cannot say that it is a celebration day for them. The reason is that journalism in our country is already subjected to a big economic crisis, and the power which decrees that profession to be “native and national” makes things harder. 

Hello, good morning. 10th January is the day of the working journalists. Frankly, I do not think that that day means a lot to us, as journalists, because I am doing that job for many years – there is no need to say for how long, it would reveal my age -, but I only remember that day when it comes. I never say to myself “us, journalists, we have a special day that is dedicated to us”.

However, the day before that day or that day in itself, we see it with the posts on social media, especially at the moment. Politicians’ explanations show that too. Today, I got a text from the Communications chief of the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, who congratulates “journalists who respect democratic values, professional principles and who inform the population correctly, with objectivity and a sense of responsibilities”. Anyway. Before, when we thought about journalists, their association, their community and their federation came to our minds. From now on, a big part of those groups became useless or their influence weakened a lot. Before, there was also the General Directorate for Information and Media. That organization distributed, through press institutions, yellow Press cards. Today, they are not of that color anymore. There is not a General Directorate for Information and Media either. Like a lot of things in Turkey, everything depends on the Külliye (Presidential Palace). Communication chair manages those businesses, over there. Only, before that, before Mr. Altun’s text, there was the Minister Berat Albayrak’s explanation, yesterday… One day before, he went to Sivas. In that town, during one of his activities, he took selfies with the journalists who were following him. And he celebrated the 10th January, the day of the “native and national journalists”, there. It was the news, the day before, one day ago. I took it very seriously. It is actually the reason why I have titled my commentary “Native” and national journalism” today.

When you say “native” and national”, you imply that some journalists are not natives, that they are non native, that they are non-national. Thus, when you think that journalists do not have the privilege to be native, it is as if you left the door open to everything that they could endure. So, the place of Turkey in worldwide rankings of the freedom of the press is lower and lower everyday. We can say that we are facing China. The problem of the journalists in prison is flagrant. Journalists who get in trouble by writing and drawing, journalists who do their job are questionable, in short. That is what I find hard to understand. Normally, it should not call me out of course, we are in Turkey.

Nevertheless, what bothered me in particular is this: The father of the one who pronounced that sentence is Sadık Albayrak. At the time, in Turkey, there was the article 163 of the penal code, which sued any organization or individual that used Islam to political ends against Kemalist secularism. Because of that article, the news editor of Milli Gazete had been imprisoned. I know him very well. Although we cannot often see each other, we are close. One of the first news that I have seen, that I have dealt with in my journalist life concerned the prisoners sentenced because of the article 163, in Turkey. It is in those days that I had been aware of his situation. I wrote an article for the Nokta magazine, in 1985 if I do not make an error. That year, Sadık Albayrak was part of the people of whom the freedom of the press was flouted. Other people had also been punished because of the article 163, but the first name, the most known was his.

Half-open the door to such a brutal treatment of the freedom of the press, by mentioning the words “native” and national”, while being such a man’s son is correct in no case. But it shows us that it is the national sport in Turkey: Everybody wants freedom for oneself. You only complain when you are the victim. Then, when you come to power after having been a victim, you do not hesitate over making the others seem like victims with the same arguments and the same point of view.

Before, it was not called “native” and national”, but “secular and non-secular”, or “partisan of the sharia”. Then, it became “separatist”. Henceforth, it is turning into “the one who [is non native and non-national]”. It is a tough situation. And what can be said?

Each person is generous to oneself, every one wants freedom of the press and of speech for themselves. People who oppose, bothering with such and such way are very well pointed, using justifications as “infringement to the government, to secularism”. The door to make them victims is partially open; they are even directly persecuted.

Metropoll published a study. They call on public opinion, and question it on media. It is an interesting study. They talk about what is already known, actually. The importance that people give to media, the embarrassment that they feel with regard to them, their satisfaction or dissatisfaction and so on. What is striking, there, is when they ask people if they take a good look or not at the media. They ask them if they approve the current media atmosphere. An average is made. And then, they classify the respondents in relation to the parties which have more than 19 points, according to the average. The satisfaction of the sympathizers of the AKP (Justice and Development Party), of those who vote for that party regarding media is higher than 19 points, in comparison to the average of Turkey. The satisfaction of the sympathizers of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party, let us say the partner of the coalition, the ally of the AKP) is higher than the average of Turkey, although it is not as high as the partisans of the AKP. And of course, those who are the most discontent, without a surprise, are those who vote for the HDP (People’s Democratic Party).

What is interesting here, is the attitude of the people who could be considered as being the base of the AKP, its backbone, the block of the National Salvation Party (Milli Görüş). Long ago, the people who witnessed the years of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), then the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi), were those who complained the most, who criticized media and they were right; because the media, the main media had set a lot of obstacles up in front of the Welfare Party, in front of Mr. Erdoğan, Mr. Erbakan (Necmettin Erbakan, former prime minister of Turkey, who died in 2011) and the others. Information on them was one-sided and aggressive in newspapers and on television. According to the current term, they were “the other” and they were targeted. And it is because of that, as Mr. Erbakan and the others talked about it, that there was a “certain group of media”. And they tried to form a language from what media made them endure.

They were right. Media were mercilessly with dominant strengths of the regime. These ones, these strengths that felt that their own power was threatened, shared their power with media. After the Welfare Party, the National Salvation Party, then the Virtue Party and the AKP were created, even after the arrival to power of the latter, powers did everything to stand in its way for a while. But today, we see that the people who constitute the very base of the party are very satisfied with media. Media are under their control from now on. And thanks to that, they are content with the current state of things. We are also confronted with that phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is a very important point here. In the past, that movement, that movement which spread to the AKP has acquired power despite media, and has even come to power thanks to their impediment. Today, that very movement, the one of which the Justice and Development Party is the outcome, and Mr. Erdoğan, will probably lose their power because of their own media. The domination of media is not a very good thing in reality.

We can at least confirm that with the example of Turkey. The CHP (Republican People’s Party) prepared a report in anticipation of the 10th January, like every year. Veli Ağbaba (member of the CHP and deputy of Malatya) and Yüksel Mansur Kılınç (deputy of Istanbul) signed the report of this year. Very interesting figures can be found in it. Especially concerning the stoppage of the production of cellulose, the even more higher increase of the price of paper, the fact that it is only supplied by the import and the disappearance of more than 300 local and national newspapers and magazines. All of that happened in one year. It will last even more longer.

But the increase of the price of paper is evidently not the only problem, there. There is also the reduction of advertising income. It has a direct link with the economic crisis. And of course with the fact that people have less esteem for the written press and magazines, this being due to the advent of digital era.

This is reality. Since July 2018, those who prepared the report of the CHP have determined that 5 500 journalists and press workers had lost their job. It is a very worrying number. Practically 86 268 people are currently working in that area. They are of course listed people. 86 000 out of 91 000, so 5 500 people have lost their job in one year. That figure is alarming. And honestly, I do not think that this gap can be reversible. Among those 86 000 people, virtually 86 000 working people, 53 000 are printing company workers, evidently, it is important to emphasize it. 

Henceforth, the change within the sector is on a large scale. The digital field is highlighted. Less people are working in the digital field; there are less organizations. Big organizations, the monopoly of media make way for mainly smaller companies. But it cannot either be said that a media field has really been formed, there. It is only the beginning. 

In every instance, it is in crisis; an economic crisis, a political crisis, a crisis of the fundamental rights and freedoms. Consequently, the day, the celebration of the journalism etc. are not really bright ideas. Is a move back possible, starting from that? Will everything be restored? It is necessary to always stay positive, the willingness is necessary. But in the current state of Turkey, media, traditional media are doomed to disappear. 

Two newspapers have stopped their work, recently. They were newspapers which supported the power, which totally identified with it. What is the reason of their end? An economic reason. The main cause of that is apparently the fact that the political orientation of the leadership of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul has gone from the AKP to the CHP. Thus, we understand that the true source of income of those newspapers; which enables them to subsist has nothing to do with sales and advertisement. This is what we understand. As for me, that kind of newspapers, newspapers that will close their doors will be even more numerous. It is unnecessary to give names.

But anyhow, a lot of newspapers are not working anymore. Even Vatan, a newspaper for which I have worked for years, then Habertürk closed, for example. It is said that they continue their work in digital format. If truth be told, I do not know to what extent they are efficient, if that format is a success for them. I am not particularly interested in, either. Newspapers are closing. Television news channels have no impact, especially in our current context. They are becoming less and less effective. They are not credible. It is very simple: the base of journalism is to chase after the news. But for a while, in Turkey, the news has been pursuing journalists and the latters (not all of them, of course, but a majority), mostly those who are part of the remains of old conventional media flee information. 

News can only become news at best, if it is approved by Ankara or the Külliye, or if it is refuted. Today, you will never see information which would damage the government, the power; until it denies them. People are only aware if it is addressed by the government. Here is “native” and national journalism” that  the power keeps repeating to people, the sector of the media in Turkey, that “ “native” and national journalism” which, like a lot of fields brought desertification with it.

The power is going to change. But that desertification, is, in my opinion, going to maintain itself on a grand scale. There, that problem in particular has to be underlined: The desertification of the media that the power provokes by using the tools that it has at its disposal, and by making use of its judicial system when it is necessary has to be discussed; but also to what extent the environments of the opposition contribute to the establishment of a true media atmosphere, efficient, alternative. It is also important to insist on this point. 

For a long time, the parties of the opposition have been saying that they have no power, etc. But, lately, in particular, as a big majority of the town councils of big towns has been won by the CHP, the opposition has much more tools available to make the media atmosphere more free, pluralistic. To what extent do they realize that? It is a very big question mark. About how long has it been really passed until now, between 31st March and today? It will almost be a year, let us say 10 months. Looking at what we have been living, I am of the belief that the contributions of town councils of big towns regarding the mastery of a new perception, of the highlighting of a media atmosphere are very meagre, especially when you look at the ones of the new city councils, in general. We can discuss that in another context.

Yes, 10th January is supposed to be the day of the working journalists. We have again remembered it today. We live in Turkey, where it is proved that it is still possible to practice journalism despite everything, in a milieu where the number of our colleagues in office is diminishing. Hoping that the power and the number of responsible journalists, who see their employment as promoting the public interest, who favor the interests of the audience over theirs increase. That’s all that I had to say, until next time.

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