December 21, 2014

Gov’t raids imperil Turkey’s vibrant TV industry

The detainment of media personnel, including journalists and even screenwriters, on charges of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government by broadcasting soap operas and publishing news articles constitutes a move that does not bode well for Turkey's flourishing TV industry.

The Zaman daily's Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group's Chairman Hidayet Karaca, in addition to the producer, director and assistant scriptwriters -- one with a young child -- of Samanyolu TV's once very popular TV series “Tek Türkiye” (One Turkey) were among those taken into custody in the police raid last Sunday.

The operation has been condemned by the opposition as a deliberate attempt to silence the critical media and punish the Hizmet movement, a faith-based organization inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, for the reporting done by its media affiliates on corruption allegations that were made public on Dec. 17 and 25 of last year and has been the subject of strong responses from all around the world.

The move against “Tek Türkiye” is worrisome for the Turkish TV industry, which as a sector commands a substantial domestic audience in addition to immense popularity abroad. Turkey comes second in the world in the exportation of local TV series, topped only by the US, Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) President Mehmet Büyükekşi said in İstanbul in October.

Büyükekşi pointed out that Turkey aims to increase the value of its exported cultural products to $2 billion by 2023. He said the country's cinema and TV industry lags behind only the pharmaceutical and arms industries in terms of size, and it reached a volume of $88 billion in 2013. “This amount is expected to rise to $100 billion in 2017 and $110 billion in 2018,” the president pointed out.

According to a report published by the İstanbul Chamber of Public Accountants and Financial Advisors (İSMMMO) in 2010, the Turkish soap opera industry shrank by 30 percent between December 2008 and May 2010. However, in a twist of fate Turkish television series have seen a rapid rise in popularity over the past few years, partially due to the techniques used in filming them as well as their strong acting ensembles.

“Gümüş,” a Turkish melodrama, was originally broadcast in Turkey by Kanal D from 2005 to 2007. The show became a pop culture phenomenon when it aired across the Arab world as “Noor” (Arabic for “light”) in 2009. Also, the Turkish series “Kurtlar Vadisi” (Valley of the Wolves), which was aired internationally on a United Arab Emirates-based TV station, has also broken viewing records, along with a number of other shows produced in Turkey.

The chief executive of the Association for International Broadcasting (AIB), Simon Spanswick, spoke to Sunday's Zaman, saying the AIB is concerned about what appears to be a politically motivated campaign of intimidation against journalists and media workers in Turkey.

Spanswick said: “The detention of a number of staff working on the popular TV soap opera 'Tek Turkiye' is also of concern to AIB. The arrest of writers and production staff -- including, for example, graphic designers -- on this soap opera is outrageous.”

“Turkey enjoys a vibrant media market,” commented the AIB's chief executive. “This market has developed as a direct result of the freedom of expression that has existed in Turkey for many years,” he continued.

Noting that he found it regrettable that this freedom now seems to be at risk Spanwick said, "The AIB calls for these detentions to be halted with immediate effect and for intimidation against the press and media workers to stop.”

Pro-government media outlets ran stories throughout the week claiming that the detentions of TV program staff were linked to an alleged conspiracy against an al-Qaeda-linked terror group named “Tahşiyeciler.”

Turkey learned about the Tahşiyeciler group on Jan. 22, 2010 when police raided the homes and offices of 112 people across Turkey as part of a series of al-Qaeda sweeps. Police discovered two hand grenades, ammunition and maps that were allegedly part of an impending plot to stage a terror attack in Turkey.

Yunus Aylıdere, Samanyolu's TV series coordinator, spoke to Sunday's Zaman immediately after the arrests on Sunday, saying the situation was “unacceptable and tragicomic.”

He voiced his astonishment at the claims by the pro-government media, saying the plot of the TV series and the events it covered were just fiction and had nothing to do with real life or real persons.

Aylıdere said if one were to derive such meaning from the events in a TV series, it would never be possible to shoot TV films or movies anywhere in the world. He also said in his interview with Sunday's Zaman that the names of those detained who were associated with “Tek Türkiye” must have been taken from the TV show's credits.

The TV show tells the story of a young, idealistic doctor who travels to the Southeast of Turkey from İstanbul -- without knowing that he was born in the region -- in a bid to help the local population, which has been suffering for decades from terrorism perpetrated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It aired on STV between 2007 and 2011, receiving high ratings despite lacking a big-name cast.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 December 2014, Sunday