September 11, 2014

Turkish media being tested with the ‘parallel' lie

Orhan Oğuz Gürbüz

What sort of relationship should exist between the media and the general public? One needs to closely scrutinize the Turkey example when searching for the answer to this question. The vast majority of media bosses in Turkey have been unable to remove themselves from out under the direct control of ruling powers.

Let's take a moment to recall that in Turkey -- as in many countries -- the media is accepted as the “fourth estate” of power, following the executive, legislative and judicial powers. The role played by media support throughout the many military coups, junta periods, and changes in regime that have marked Turkish political history has been considerable. In the meantime, the profit-based relationship that exists between business interests and the ruling powers has made this general sort of power give and take inevitable. Today we see that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, which came to power with the goals of fighting the entrenched authoritarian powers previously in place, has essentially rebuilt the same sort of media based on authoritarian power as before. What has come about now is a new kind of Turkish media that stands completely in obedience to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's power, and which does not dare to stray outside his word. These days, the country has some 13 TV stations and precisely eight newspapers which come out with the same headlines, the same stories and the same allegations on a daily basis. Working within the same template, these media organs aim to alter the perceptions of the public.

There is no hesitation on the part of these completely government-dependent media organs when it comes to the publishing of huge lies. As for those media bosses who are not dependent on Erdoğan, they tough out this period in silence, waiting for it to pass. In the meantime, there are a few media organs which try to maintain efforts to publish complaints and allegations against Erdoğan's rule.

While efforts to spread the illusions continue, the ruling party appears to be undisturbed about whether or not the lies they are spreading are even consistent. President Erdoğan, attending the recent NATO summit, spoke further there on the “parallel state” risk. He asserted that his government had already asked the US government for Fethullah Gülen. Further research into this claim by Erdoğan revealed that in fact, this baseless, meaningless, and in fact illegal request had already been rejected by the administration of President Barack Obama, and had actually been passed onto a lower government commission to be dealt with appropriately.

Despite these revelations regarding the real truth about the Turkish government's demand for Gülen, Erdoğan-supporting media published blaring headlines about how Ankara was “demanding the return of a terror leader,” with further headlines saying, “Either turn Gülen over, or deport him.”

One newspaper in particular, which had previously published headlines about how the “CIA and the Gülen Group are working together,” didn't hesitate to come out with a post-NATO summit headline that said, “The MİT (National Intelligence Organization) and CIA are going to ally against the Gülen group.” All of which leads one to query: which of these headlines then, is true? Are the CIA and the Gülen people working together? Or is the CIA working with the Erdoğan government against the Gülen people?

We last saw such headlines around the time of the Feb. 28 coup period in Turkey. Today though, while the media sector is certainly more pro-public in nature, it has shelved much of what is legal and freedom-loving, and is instead embracing the role of a government department which takes orders from the ruling powers. It appears many of these media organs really believe that these days will go on forever, that the funds gushing from government budgets won't stop rolling into their pockets. But it is perhaps wise to recall that no authoritarian regime can last forever.

Those media sources and their bosses who support these government operations will have, in the long run, no more esteem awarded to them within the framework of Turkish business or political life. There were many a journalist and writer who failed the tests put forward by the Feb. 28 process, and who thus were never able to work again in the Turkish media. Their opposition to democracy, as well as the stance taken by their writings, was never forgotten. Many retreated to the background after this time in Turkey; others resigned themselves to lives of passive journalism from then onwards. What we see today, in short, is that the lie of the parallel state has taken Turkey hostage, and in the process, the Turkish media is being tested. The period that came in the wake of the Dec. 17 [corruption allegations] is set to determine how the media, and individual writers, will be remembered in the future. And when the big lie about the parallel state comes to an end, and when voices of justice begin to speak again, and when democracy begins once more to function, this is when the real sins of the media will emerge for all to see.

Published on Today's Zaman, 11 September 2014, Thursday