I was outside of the police department in İstanbul when Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı was taken into custody on Sunday. The protesters were packed together and excited, but acted maturely.
Zaman is Turkey's best-selling newspaper. Its circulation figure -- around 1 million -- is higher than those of the three newspapers below it taken together. The lack of press freedom in Turkey was evidenced not only by journalists being detained under this operation that intends to silence opposition, but also by the silence of other newspapers regarding it. In front of the police department, there were live broadcasting vehicles belonging to media outlets other than the Zaman group and the Samanyolu TV station, but they were not active. Their silence was noticeable in their news bulletins after. Media outlets around the world reported the incident as breaking news and as an attack against freedom of the press, however Turkish media outlets which are pro-government or under the government's influence tended to cover it in a manner analogous to the official statements from the government on the incident.
In this way, it is clear that detentions of journalists as well as the media's news stories and comments on these detentions were proof that the press is not free in Turkey.
There are currently three types of media outlets in Turkey. First, there is the pro-government or "pool" media. It is referred to as the "pool" media because it is financed through funds raised by various businessmen to protect the government's interests. The real owner of this group of media outlets is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The second group consists of mainstream media outlets owned by big businessmen. Erdoğan has managed to take these businessmen under his hegemony using the state's economic power. With the carrot and stick policy, i.e., by transferring the state's benefits to those who pursue pro-government policies and issuing high fines to those who refuse to do so, he can control these media groups. There are party people who directly represent Erdoğan inside each of these media groups. These people determine the editorial policies. The journalists who raise objections to this setup and criticize the government are laid off. There are currently 940 journalists who have lost their jobs for this reason. Virtually all of Turkey's veteran journalists are among these 940 journalists. All of the journalists who are respected for their status as opinion leaders are currently unemployed. This is the reason why the mainstream media outlets failed to uphold the freedom of the press in the face of the police operation against the Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu TV station. Journalists fear losing their jobs and their boss are scared of being punished by Erdoğan.
The proportion of the media outlets controlled by Erdoğan via this mechanism is around 70 percent. The diversity of this media power is important as well. The liberal media group which is preferred by apolitical social groups as the sole source of political news has virtually come under Erdoğan's total control. The remaining newspapers are Zaman, Bugün, Taraf, Cumhuriyet and Sözcü. The TV power of the opposition group is weaker compared to the Erdoğan-controlled group.
If Erdoğan can silence Zaman daily and Samanyolu TV, there is virtually no opposition media power. The latest crackdown is an attack against the last bastions of freedom of the press.
The Twitter whistle-blower Fuat Avni wrote that the operation against the dissident journalists had been delayed. Erdoğan plays the "all or none" game. If he can succeed, this will be the final nail on the coffin of the freedom of the press and he will announce his dictatorship. Can he do it? The answer can be found in Erdoğan's illusion regarding his own power. That is to say, Erdoğan does not have such power and the society will not be inclined to yield to that power.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the exposure of the graft and bribery investigation. No one intends to keep quiet.
Published on Today's Zaman, 15 November 2014, Monday