LALE – There is no media culture in Turkey

There is no media culture in TurkeyTurkish media organizations, which are highly politicized, have, for the first time, reacted with one voice against the detention of senior journalists last Sunday, Dec. 14, urging that they be released and harshly criticizing the ongoing government policy of silencing the media, through police measures, if necessary.

This practice of Turkish media organizations uniting against the continuing pressure exerted upon media freedom is unusual, as they have become largely fragmented and politically polarized, thereby making ample space for clientelism and a decline in professional standards.The serious problems that the Turkish media encounter are also underlined in a February report published by the European Commissionand#39s Directorate General for Enlargement.

The report covered candidate member countries in the Western Balkans in addition to Turkey, in order to address the persistent media freedom issues in these countries in a systemic way.As the report underscored, among other things, in Turkey, far too often media professionals are not able to transcend their political divides and affiliations for the sake of agreeing on common interests, be it insisting on proper labor relations or effective and representative self-regulation in the sectorSo what is the recipe to solve media problems?The EU Commissionand#39s report notes that most importantly, the journalists themselves need to be the key driver of the expected change regarding media freedom, among other things.

Yet the report notes that media self-regulation meant to maintain ethical and professional standards cannot make progress precisely because of the fragmentation and polarization in the media community. This serves as grounds (and sometimes a pretext) for the judiciary to interfere with critical journalismThe judiciaryand#39s interference with critical journalism is exactly what has been happening in Turkey, as the latest detentions of senior journalists have proven.

As I mentioned above, though in a rare move Turkish media organizations have emerged with one voice to criticize the latest detentions of journalists, including Ekrem DumanlI, the editor-in-chief of Turkeyand#39s bestselling Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, the general manager of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, this does not signal that their highly politicized character will change overnight. This is because the Turkish media culture does not allow it to adapt to changes in the right direction in a short time.

Moreover, there are those Turkish journalists who can so grossly violate media ethics that it can sometimes be necessary to settle the dispute in court to prevent them from repeating their violation of the basic press rules of respecting the privacy and rights of others.Among such journalists who violate media ethics is Ahmet IIk, who has nowadays emerged again, as if he is a hero of ethical journalismIIk is currently being tried on charges related to writing the book andldquoThe Imamand#39s Armyandrdquo on the life and work of respected Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, in a highly critical fashion.

The senior journalists who were detained on Dec. 14 are from pro-Gulen media outlets.

IIk, who served in prison before being released in 2013 pending trial, did not deserve the criminal procedure launched in 2011 over writing a book critical on any topic, which had not even been published at the time he was arrested. The draft book was later seized by the government and banned, claiming it was an andquotillegal organizational documentandquot of the secret Ergenekon organization.

However, the same Ahmet IIk did, perhaps, deserve to face a legal procedure for grossly violating media ethics in the way he ran an interview that I gave him in 2007, soon after the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.I agreed to give IIk an interview when a professor friend of mine stood as a reference for him Hence, trusting him, I talked to him openly but off the record, receiving a promise from him that he would show me the text before it was published.

I asked to preview the copy because I had used some vulgar terms about gendarmerie and police personnel in reaction to pictures published in dailies of them posing with the would-be assailant of Dink, making victory signs.In a democratic country, of course, these security officials should have stood trial, but they did not.

Nevertheless, IIk not only ran the interview in the draft form in the now-defunct Nokta magazine in 2007 without showing me the text of my interview beforehand, he also did not even bother to make grammatical corrections to the interview, an indication of his carelessness and indifference to media ethics.Especially in a country like Turkey, where there exists the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation or Turkish government institutions, IIk should have acted more responsibly.

Even if he did not show me the text, at least he should not have used some terminology in the interview that he should have known could constitute a crime under Turkish law.I was on trial for around two-and-a-half years on charges of insulting Turkish institutions, ie, the gendarmerie, under Article 301 before I was acquitted, just because IIk brutally betrayed his interviewee, ie, me, by running the interview without me making the necessary corrections to it before it was published.

Another journalist, RuIen akIr, wrote an article attacking me while defending IIkand#39s unethical journalismI wanted to remind the readers about my horrible experience with IIkand#39s unethical journalism because he has now been appearing on some TV programs giving lessons to the media, and in particular to the pro-Gulen media, accusing those journalists of being seriously immoral in their coverage of events and saying that they have to be willing to examine themselves critically.I aise IIk that it would be better to keep quiet on the issue of morality and concentrate on his ongoing legal case, which is, in fact, a violation of media freedom.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman