’Things’ and media ethics

By: BÜLENT KENEŞ

I have long been referring to them as a “thing,” as I believe what they do has nothing to do with journalism. Now, whenever I have to use their names, I feel obliged to call them the Akşam thing, the Sabah thing, the Yeni Şafak thing, the Star thing, the Akit thing, the Takvim thing and so on. Yes, they are certainly something, but they are not newspapers as we know them.

There are also their TV, radio and Internet versions, which can readily be designated as “things,” as we can hardly describe them as media organs. Indeed, it would be great praise for these “things” to depict them as news channels, radio channels or news portals.

Due to respect for my profession and more importantly for the work of my colleagues, who are determined to perform their profession in a dignified manner despite the hardships and pressure, I no longer accept those who have been embedded in the media sector by the government or who have moved closer to a pro-government line after being tempted by the favors distributed by the government to journalists. I don’t think they are the practitioners of this profession, which entails an unshakeable stance against such pressure and an astute, dignified and honorable attitude toward these temptations.

I don’t believe that any colleague of mine who has sincere faith in the ethical values of the profession — which is a manifestation of the public’s need to access correct news and information — can give his/her consent to what the pro-government media have been doing or define it as proper “journalism.” This hideous society that is fouling the profession of journalism and discrediting journalists can only convey the government’s divisive, ugly and immoral language that demonizes, otherizes, polarizes and antagonizes diverse social groups, but their profession can never be accepted as journalism. This is because journalism means true and objective reporting and balanced commentary made in a respectful manner. On the other hand, what they do consists solely of black propaganda, lies, slanders, aspersions and denigration.

Of course, there were times in the past when certain media outlets became a cause for disgust under the orders, instructions and expectations of certain power groups in Turkey. But there was never a period when they grew as vile and shabby as they are today or when the sine qua non principles of the profession were so deliberately ignored or violated for the sake of certain political or commercial interests. Seasoned journalist Rıdvan Akar made similar comments in an interview he gave to the latest issue of the Cihan Medya Haber news magazine. Comparing the current period with the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980, Akar noted that the current pressures are similar to those experienced in the coup era.

The following remarks from Akar deserve to be stressed: “I think we cannot argue that any form of meddling with the media is more legitimate than others. In other words, there is not much difference between the junta members’ efforts to control the media outlets and how current government officials treat the media sector.”

This misguided mentality that has attached itself to the government, which has gone out of control and turned into a generator of hate and grudges, naturally finds its origin in power built upon lies and deception. Therefore, according to some surveys, public confidence in the media has dropped to below 30 percent in Turkey. “Deplorable” is the only word I can find to properly describe the current state of media and journalism in Turkey.

Yet I know it is not the media sector that is solely responsible for this state. In particular, the role of the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-led government in this tragic state of affairs cannot be denied, as it exhibits an unprecedented intolerance of diverse and divergent views, comments and discourses. Actually, we are experiencing the hellish results of the corruption cases implicating the government, including its efforts to create a pro-government media camp by using the easily manipulated political and economic tools and by not allowing the media sector to be guided by its own dynamics.

All sorts of sophisticated methods are being employed in a mafia-like manner to create a pro-government media camp that lends unconditional support to the government without caring about what is right or wrong. For instance, media groups are seized and handed over to pro-government businessmen. Unfairly high tax penalties are imposed on independent media outlets to silence them. Rumors are skillfully spread about the imminent detention of dissident journalists with a view to terrorizing colleagues who strive to safeguard their honor and dignity against all odds.

On the other hand, pro-government businessmen are awarded high-volume public contracts to reshape the entire media sector as a pro-government camp from scratch. These businessmen are asked to play a pro-government role in the media sector as a price for the public resources made available to them. This media engineering climate in which public resources, particularly credit facilities from public banks, are made available in an open-ended and reckless manner proves deadly to journalism.

The suffocating media atmosphere created by the government is limiting the oxygen available to the profession. Erdoğan is so reckless that he can use the pro-government media outlets as weapons of psychological warfare and black propaganda, and he respects neither ethical or moral rules nor law, rights or freedoms.

In this milieu, which can be properly described as “fascism,” the Erdoğan government now sees even the most innocent criticism as treason. Yavuz Semerci, a columnist for the HaberTürk newspaper, has underlined this hair-raising development. Speaking to Cihan Medya Haber, Semerci noted that this is the first time a ruling party has feared leaving office as it fears death. “The if-we-leave-office-everything-will-be-destroyed mentality is boosting authoritarianism in the country,” he said, adding: “Even voicing criticism has started to be seen as treason in Turkey. This is unbelievable.”

Semerci is not the only person who finds the pro-government media’s slanders and lies unbelievable. Every day a new colleague of ours finds the contemptible state of the pro-government media unbearable and resigns from his or her post. Doğan Ertuğrul, the managing editor of the Star thing, resigned from his post, at which he had been working for the previous seven or eight years, and revolted over the escalation of hateful discourse and its false and unfair editorial policy.

A similar resignation came on Monday from the Akşam thing, which, like other pro-government media outlets, runs fabricated headlines and then comes out with another lie or slander when that story is refuted or denied. The most striking reaction to the Akşam thing, which recently boosted its manufacturing of lies and defamatory stories against the Hizmet movement, came from inside. Seasoned columnist Fikri Akyüz resigned from the government’s black propaganda weapon, the Akşam thing, in an effort to protect his human dignity and respect for professional and universal ethics.

“Akşam has started to pursue an editorial policy that is worse than the one followed by pro-coup media outlets in the coup of Feb. 28, 1997,” Akyüz said, announcing his resignation in a tweet. Speaking to the Zaman newspaper, Akyüz said: “There are rules even in wartime. The media outlets that backed the Feb. 28 coup would stick to certain principles even if they put forward nonsensical and antidemocratic arguments. Today, the media sector is guided by underhand tactics.” Stressing that the most important thing in life is to act according to one’s conscience, Akyüz indicated, “I want my two daughters to say, ‘Our dad didn’t prefer his wallet to his conscience.'”

It is obvious that the pro-government media’s efforts to fabricate false news stories will be used as fake evidence for possible operations against the so-called “parallel structure,” which has been produced on the basis of Erdoğan’s lies. The prime minister has invented the “paralel structure” lie to cover up the largest-scale graft and bribery scandal in the history of the country. This scandal is expected to push our colleagues who have the slightest sense of morality, dignity, honor, fairness and conscience to revolt. Those who silence their conscience and put their honor at the disposal of a blackened and corrupt ruling party will, I am sure, remember these rueful days in utter disgrace. Even if they try to forget these days, honorable journalists will make everyone remember these scandals.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN