BuLENT – Media and democracy in Turkey

Media and democracy in TurkeyFreedom of the press and freedom of expression are infallible benchmarks in determining the quality of democracy in a country. To pass judgment on whether a country has real democracy and functioning rule of law, the first thing we should check is to what extent both the press and the people feel free to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

If media outlets can continue to execute their functions even when all organs and bodies are suppressed, we can hope that the country may regain the qualities found in a democratic country governed by the rule of law. You can be assured that the media outlets will perform their duty of scrutinizing the executive, legislative and judicial powers on behalf of the public as part of the system of checks and balances, a necessary foundation for a democratic state governed by rule of law.

The media perform this examination not based on their own power, but by raising public awareness and setting the agenda Thus, they will ensure that the public is made aware of even small deviations from the rule of law and are therefore in a position to contribute to the process of getting things back on track. For this crucial role, the media tend to be defined as the Fourth Estate and thus, given a reputable role within the systemThe state of press freedoms in a country directly indicates the caliber of democracy in that country.

If media outlets are not free, if journalists are repressed or if media outlets and journalists have been unable to maintain the due distance from the government, then it is impossible to say that a country is a genuine democracy. Furthermore, if a despotic regime has dispensed with democracy, as well as the universal norms of democratic law and engaged in efforts to design the media — which it sees as one of the most fundamental tools for its social engineering project — then we can hardly talk about democracy or press freedoms in that country.

Freedom of the press does not imply that only those in power or those speaking on their behalf may speak their mind freely. In any regime, be it a democracy, monarchy or dictatorship, those in power already have the luxury of speaking freely.

For this reason, the fine-tuned scales that measure freedom of the press and freedom of expression start to work when the freedoms of the dissidents and ethnic, religious, cultural or political minorities are at stake. For this reason, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are measured against the liberty of the tiniest minority of society to express itself.

The multitude of media outlets in countries where a repressive ruling party, such as in Turkey, recklessly implement all sorts of media engineering at the macro or micro levels should not be misleading. Indeed, in the democratic world, freedom of the press is related to the pluralism, not multiplicity, of media outlets.

A media environment which lacks pluralism and diversity can hardly be defined as free.Public relations and propagandaThus, pro-government journalism or freely publishing pro-government opinions is not part of freedom of the press or freedom of expression.

In regard to this connection, publications made freely in line with the ruling partyand#39s wishes and jettisoning the mediaand#39s role of scrutiny and criticism are not conducive to press freedoms, but fall into the category of public relations and propaganda Journalism is, in essence, a critical profession for seeking out the common good for the public. A so-called media outlet which fails to fulfill these functions will lose its right to be designated as a media outlet.

A democratic and pluralistic media atmosphere, of course, can contain media outlets and journalists that will champion the ruling partyand#39s policies and opinions. However, if the tiniest or most marginal dissident media outlets or journalists do not feel that they are as safe as the pro-government media outlets and journalists, that environment can hardly be considered democratic or consisting of media freedoms.

For this reason, democratic countries such as the US and the UK attach greater importance to freedom of the press, among other rights and freedoms, and provide strong legal guarantees for the protection of freedom of the press and expression.In countries, like ours, which have ups and downs on the road to becoming a genuine democratic state governed by rule of law, it is impossible to assert that democracy, rule of law or freedom of the press, are truly in effect.

If the entire mainstream media are taken under the control of the government with a carrot-and-stick policy, this certainly sounds the death knell for democracy, rule of law and freedom of the press.Unfortunately, Turkey has never managed to implement democracy and rule of law in a true sense, despite its 150-year-old democratization bid, as improvements during certain periods have been followed by regressions in others.

During all these ups and downs, media freedoms seem to rise and fall alongside the democratic and legal standards. President Recep Tayyip ErdoIanand#39s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been at the helm of the country since 2002, complied with this overall trend.

During the first 10 years in office, ErdoIan and the AKP had to wrestle with the military tutelage and stick to serious democratization moves however, in the wake of its 2011 election victory, which gave them the arrogant belief that they were in full command of the state apparatus, they indulged in a systematic denial of democratic principles and criteria This process did not bode well for the countryand#39s future. The most noticeable manifestations of this deviation from constitutional values were visible in the media sector and its freedoms.

Between 2002 and 2011, Turkey was characterized by reform and democratization efforts coupled with policies to improve the standards of rights and freedoms, as well as promote relations with the worldand#39s democratic countries, and in particular the European Union. After ErdoIan and his party secured 50 percent of the national vote in the 2011 elections, this changed and Turkey reversed its process of democratization.

With this change, the system of checks and balances was disrupted, and control of the legislature was brought under executive authority. Balancing systems, such as the Court of Accounts, were rendered completely dysfunctional and the judiciary was made vulnerable to outside pressures.

In this period, they embarked on the project of building a religious society — as visualized by ErdoIan — through patronizing education policies and practices this project was further supported through media campaigns.Experienced journalists under serious threatCurrently, if you are a popular, experienced, courageous and influential journalist in Turkey, you are under a serious threat.

There is now hardly any media outlet that has managed to remain independent in the face of ErdoIan and his croniesand#39 efforts to confiscate or acquire dissident papers and TV channels or establish new ones or intimidate them with high tax fines or reward their bosses with lucrative public tenders.Media outlets and journalist who strive to exist in such a repressive environment and are bold enough to pursue independent and free journalism are doing this despite all sorts of legal, financial and physical threats.

The presence of such papers, TV channels and journalists should not be misleading. As long as you accept, in aance, the price that you will pay for your work, you can andldquofreelyandrdquo conduct your journalistic pursuits in any country.

The fact is that today journalists lose their jobs in Turkey and newspapers and TV channels are confiscated by public authorities to be handed over to pro-government businessmen at competitive prices. The state-owned media outlets are turned into mouthpieces for the government and public resources are used to convert all the media into univocal pro-government mediaThe media outlets that refuse to conform face attempts to corner them financially by curbing their sales and threatening companies who place aertisements with them Journalists are individually targeted with terrifying character assassinations and systematic defamation campaigns that have now become routine.

On the other hand, only relatively marginal publications are allowed to audit and criticize the government, but they are on the fringe of popular media and therefore not taken seriously and given due credit.In fact, what has happened to Turkeyand#39s media environment since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013 and the graft and bribery investigations that became public on Dec.

17 and 25, 2013, are enough to expose the deplorable state of press freedom in particular and Turkish democracy in general.Ninety-four journalists lost their jobs and 37 others were forced to resign as a result of the surmounting pressures in the wake of the Gezi Park protests.

After the public disclosure of the governmentand#39s corruption scandal, 981 journalists were dismissed in the first half of 2014 and 56 journalists opted to resign from office under duress. The andldquowitch huntandrdquo ErdoIan launched against Turkeyand#39s largest, peaceful civil society organization, the Hizmet movement, was a major reason for these dismissals.

In April alone, at least 210 journalists were fired.Currently, media outlets such as Taraf, Zaman, Todayand#39s Zaman, Cumhuriyet, the Cihan news agency, Samanyolu TV and Bugun suffer from the governmentand#39s pressure and are prevented from performing their duties by various methods.

The governmentand#39s pressures can be felt at every level, from the boss to the correspondent in the field. As it put the existing media outlets into shape using its carrot and stick policy, the ruling AKP also managed to establish its own media that function with a governmental chain of command, with the help of some pro-government businessmen.

The pro-government media, including the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and the Anadolu news agency, which are supposed to be neutral in their publications, have come to constitute the main bulk of the Turkish media sectorThis scandalous development is frequently reported on by international human rights and journalism organizations. In this context, the latest report by Freedom House listed Turkey as a non-free country in terms of press freedoms, and it was ranked 154 among 180 countries in the latest report by Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

Turkey has unfortunately become a democracy where free and independent media are moribund and objective and experienced journalists lose their jobs. Of course, whether we can still call a country where the media suffer from efforts to manipulate them, from threats and from censorship a democracy is another question.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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