December 5, 2015

Local TV becomes platform for independent journalism amid growing pressure

Journalists Turan Görüryılmaz and Fatih Akalan, who lost their jobs after government-appointed trustees took over the management of the İpek Media Group in October, continue their fight for independent journalism at a local TV station, Can Erzincan TV, and say they are happy to do real journalism despite limited resources.

In a controversial move on Oct. 27, an Ankara court ordered the takeover of Koza İpek Holding, which owns the İpek Media Group, appointing trustees to run its five critical media outlets -- Bugün TV, Kanaltürk, the Bugün daily, the Millet daily and the Kanaltürk radio station. The outlets, owned by businessman Akın İpek, were taken over based on an expert opinion that their financial records were implausibly clean.

Görüryılmaz, who was Kanaltürk's news anchor before the takeover, continued to broadcast live for 12 hours after his program was aired on Can Erzincan TV.

Akalan, a former editor of Bugün TV, continued the program as onlookers who support the initiative dropped in to show their solidarity with Bugün TV and Kanaltürk staff members and those working for Can Erzincan TV.

Görüryılmaz said he and Akalan decided to resign from the İpek Media Group two days after the takeover because they had come to the conclusion that it would not be possible for them to work under such pressure.

He said they just collected their belongings from Bugün TV and Kanaltürk and went to Can Erzincan TV after hearing a call from the channel's owner, Recep Aktaş, who said, "The doors of my channel are open to those who leave Bugün TV and Kanaltürk."

The journalists said they immediately began hosting programs in turn and inviting guests to Can Erzincan TV despite limited technical means.

"We carried the system we used in Bugün TV here. The broadcast stream of the channel completely changed in a short time and Can Erzincan became a news channel in the real sense. … The viewers of Bugün TV, Samanyolu TV and everyone longing for independent journalism in Turkey began to watch Can Erzincan," Görüryılmaz said.

Last month, more than a dozen television and radio channels owned by the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group were removed from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) in yet another government-backed move that targeted critical media.

The appointment of trustees to the İpek Media Group and the removal of the Samanyolu group from Türksat led to more than 1,000 journalists working at these news outlets losing their jobs.

When asked how they can measure the interest in Can Erzincan TV, the journalist said they are receiving messages of support from Facebook and Twitter, people are calling them from every corner of Turkey and sending their prayers and even visiting their office to lend support.

Giving some information about the channel's broadcasting policy, Akalan said what they are after is just independent journalism.

"We want to say what is right and what is wrong and hold up a mirror when people are doing something. If what is seen in the mirror is ugly, this is not because of us. If they are disturbed by what they see in the mirror, then they need to review their actions. We are actually doing something beneficial for the government and the people who voted for the Justice and Development Party [AK Party]. Should a person always want to be praised? They should not," said Akalan, adding that telling the government about its mistakes is something that will prolong its life.

The journalist said they don't have any difficulty in getting guests at Can Erzincan TV and so far they have hosted prominent figures such as journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ünal Tanık, Ergun Babahan and academics Süleyman Yaşar and Mehmet Altan.

Akalan said the only difficulty stems from the channel's location because it is situated in İstanbul's Sanayi neighborhood on the second floor of a building used as a wedding salon, hence guests have difficulty in finding the place.

According to Akalan, Can Erzincan TV's name will go down in history as the symbol of free journalism at a time when most media outlets in the country bowed to government pressure and act as its mouthpiece.

"If this TV station becomes the flagship of independent journalism one day, I hope people will ask us about its story. And we will tell them that at one time in Turkey journalism hit rock bottom and we continued independent journalism at Can Erzincan TV, which was a local TV channel. We will tell this story over and over again so that the country does not return to those shameful days. I think a movie, a documentary and a book could come out of Can Erzincan's story," said Akalan.

Görüryılmaz said there are hundreds of television channels like Can Erzincan, but Can Erzincan's popularity as a national channel shows people's need for free media.

"We just made some small touches, there are also contributions from volunteers, but what makes Can Erzincan Can Erzincan is the need people feel for freedom," he said.

When asked about government claims suggesting that Turkey is one of the countries that enjoys freedom of the press the most, Akalan said Turkey is for the first time seeing a government whose actions and words contradict so much.

"By looking in the eyes of their supporters, they [the government] are telling lies recklessly and shamelessly because their only concern is to keep the 49 percent bloc in their hands. They just don't care about the fact that the remaining 51 percent see the reality as clear as Mount Ağrı," Akalan said.

The journalist also recalled remarks by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who once said if a journalist can return to their home safe and sound in the evening, it shows there is freedom of the press in Turkey.

"For three days, I constantly asked Davutoğlu why I could not go home for three days and see my children because I stood guard at my TV station [for fear of its takeover by trustees]. I could not get an answer. A total of 800 people have lost their jobs at Samanyolu. They can go to their homes, but they are no longer journalists. Insisting on telling this lie is just an effort to create an illusion [of freedom of the press]. It is like we are watching 'The Truman Show'," Akalan said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 5 December 2015, Saturday