November 21, 2015

Tarık Toros: I hope Koza İpek resistance is seen as gift to journalism in this country

Bugün TV and Kanaltürk General Manager Tarık Toros, who has gone down in Turkish press history as a defender of free media due to the honorable stance he took when the main broadcasting room of Bugün TV was raided by the police on Oct. 28, told Sunday's Zaman in an exclusive interview that his and his colleagues' resistance during the raid can be thought of as a gift to journalism.

“As someone who has been in this profession for 20 years, I have a clear conscience about everything that has happened. I think our honorable struggle during the police raid on the İpek Media Group was a great example of what happens in these sorts of situations. I suppose it can be thought of as a gift to journalism,” Toros stated.

In a pre-dawn raid on Oct. 28, special operations police forces raided the İstanbul offices of television channels Kanaltürk and Bugün TV, belonging to the İpek Media Group. Police used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd gathered outside the building.

Some of the journalists present were taken into custody, and employees were not allowed to enter the building. Police then took Kanaltürk and Bugün TV off the air.

Bugün TV Editor-in-Chief Toros was forcibly removed by police officers from the broadcasting room. A handwritten notice from the new executive board of Bugün TV announced that he had been sacked from the station.

"I am deeply sorry that I could not keep the [satellite] signal on," Toros told reporters as he left the building. "I hope we will be able to continue one day where we left off. We still have a lot to say."

Today's Zaman had the chance to speak with Toros, who is now etched in people's minds for what he declared to the police raiding his media group: “I am the director of broadcasting at this channel.”

Our conversation covered a variety of topics including those of how he started in this career, what sort of troubles he encountered along the way and how the future of journalism looks to him.

There is Tarik Toros who has gone down in our press history for the honorable stance he took when the main broadcast room of Bugün TV was raided. But what is the Tarik Toros of normal daily life like?

Well, I've worked for eight years at the Koza İpek group. And in fact, before that now-infamous incident, I'd never even said anything like what people heard that day: “I am the general broadcast director of this channel. I'll give the orders.” In all those eight years, that day was the first time I had uttered those words. But it's what needed to be said at that moment. While my colleagues were being tear gassed and while doors were being broken down, I was just sitting in my office, waiting for the police to arrive. And when they finally came in, after 45 minutes of tussling outside the doors, no one looked for me. No one called for me. But then, suddenly, a broadcast colleague of mine came into my room and announced “They're entering the main broadcast room now and they're intervening in the actual broadcasting.” I jumped up and asked “Who's intervening?” But no one seemed to know… So I flew out of my office and hurried downstairs to the program broadcasting room, which is where the scenes that almost everyone has now seen took place. At this point, everything I said and did was in connection to the responsibilities I had in my work and to protecting the honor of our profession. All my colleagues seemed to be looking at me; I knew that if anything was going to be done, I had to do it at that moment. I should note that if they had entered the premises in a more courteous way, none of this would have played out in the way it did. Normally I'm quite a calm person; I speak politely. I try to compromise with others and I respect others' ideas. At our channel, decisions are made at the meeting table; until that day, I had definitely never tried to make anyone feel like I was the boss.

What is Tarik Toros like in his social life?

My work is also my lifestyle. I've been both fired and resigned quite a lot. In fact, İpek Media is the ninth company for which I've worked, and I've taken breaks for up to a year-and-a-half at times. But of course, this doesn't mean I've sat around playing Play Station during these breaks. I follow new developments. I write for the personal web site I created. I follow the media like I do when working. In fact, I'm so busy during these times that I barely have time to read or go to the cinema. Right now, I'd love to go see the new Cem Yılmaz film, or go abroad somewhere for a few weeks and just read all the books that are waiting for me. I don't find myself particularly funny, but people tell me I really carry a conversation! Normally I'm pretty calm, though also very social. I love my freedom and I love to travel. Sometimes I just love to be alone, too.

And lately, I have to admit, people seem to be treating me as though there's an old Tarik Toros and a new Tarik Toros; this is something I'm trying to get used to.

Journalists often comment that this profession is like a virus. And if this is the case, it looks like it might have infected you; how and when did you start?

During my high school years, before I knew what I was going to study, I filled out a questionnaire I saw in a newspaper about “which profession is perfect for you.” The answer I got was “librarian.” At the time, I was really surprised, but now looking back, I think that was fairly spot on. I always went to state schools and stayed in state dormitories. After middle school, my father pushed me towards technical areas in high school and university. In my first years in this profession, I regretted that past of mine, wishing I had studied political science or law or something. But then I really thought about it and realized what I had studied was actually quite perfect. Careers in TV are actually quite technical and you need to know about electronics, which is what I did study. I'm also a good mathematician and I realize that I think with a mathematical mind. But after I finished my schooling, I never really considered using what I had learned for a profession. Around 1993-94, private TV stations and different types of media were multiplying. I was interested and wanted to get involved. I began getting into this area with help from friends who had studied communications at university. I gave myself a few years to learn everything and to figure out if this was going to be my career. I don't even remember how that period passed, because the truth is, from the moment I became involved, I loved it. I have worked as reporter for so many channels now: for STV, TGRT, Kanal 6. I spent around six years in Ankara and then moved to Istanbul.

When you left Ankara for Istanbul, you had a bad experience with the police. Would you mind talking about that a bit?

It was July of 1999. I was sent to report on a flag ceremony. It was a symbolic ceremony, just 15 minutes long. The ceremony included some soldiers bringing in a flag, some oaths being taken and the president being presented with the flag. I watched the whole thing with a sort of Sunday laziness. The weather was hot. While waiting with the other reporters, I was reading a paper. It was nearly noon. Then I heard an announcement being made: “The flag is being brought into the arena!” It was a military voice. The reporters around me stood up, looking towards the flag. I didn't care, though; I just kept sitting, reading my newspaper. Then Turkey's national anthem began, so I folded up my newspaper and stood up. It finished and we sat down again. Not even one minute had passed when suddenly, a lieutenant colonel ran over to where I was sitting and pointed at me, saying, “You, come out with me.” I was forcibly removed from there on that day. The next day, I lost my job; I remained unemployed for months afterwards.

Everyone was talking about me at the time, even Süleyman Demirel. My thoughts turned to death at that time. It was the first great trauma of my life. Now my father tells me that this [the events at Koza İpek Holding] are probably the second big trauma. I tell him, “No, Father, that first one was really a trauma, but I don't accept that this time around it is a trauma.” It really is something different. Because that first event was a peculiar, individual one. But this latest one was in plain daylight, an illegal takeover of a media group in front of the entire world. What happened when we defended our workplace happened in the name of millions of viewers. This incident was a trauma for our whole country. And the coming generations will no doubt talk about this, analyze it, and so on.

You've worked at so many media groups; what made Kanaltürk and Bugün TV special for you?

I've been involved in so many angles of this career so far. I've worked here with a great crew, with Turkey's most honest, hard-working boss. Journalism is a bit of a nomadic profession. When you don't like the policies of the media group you're working for, or perhaps you don't like your boss, you can pick up an offer from a different city, a different media group, and move to a new job. This is just the way our profession is. When you stay at one place for some three or five years, that's real stability. But Koza İpek and my colleagues here were a path I could have been on for a lifetime. We had become like a family here. It was not only my eighth year, but also the eighth year for many of my colleagues. When Akın Bey bought the station, he didn't fire anyone. Now, I still have colleagues at Bugün who have worked there for the past 10 to 12 years, but they are not happy now. This is because the directors, the state trustees appointed, are not people they trust or believe in. The trustees act like they are the bosses, but their intentions are not good. And those who have been fired are trying to get their unemployment payments right now. Everyone who is still working there believes they will in the end meet the same fate as those who have been fired.

For years now, you've followed politics and been on political debate programs; now, through a political operation, you've experienced a first in press history. What do you think about politics now?

At this point, I really don't want to think or speak about politics. We've said everything there is to say already. We've said everything there is to say about the problems facing us economically, legally and freedom-wise. We've done the best we can. And people are pretty well aware now of what is out there. After every election, the political parties are given some time. When it comes to red lines and the media, let's see what the prime minister does. All of this is why the very last thing I want to do now is get involved in critiques on politics.

Would you ever participate in a political debate program, maybe in some years when things have normalized?

Of course. Because I have no doubt we'll build an even stronger society through our experiences and the lessons we've learned. This is why we are so busy talking about the law, democracy and our freedoms. And this is why we jump for joy every time we hear about positive steps taken towards the European Union. I believe everything we've experienced will go down as things we've learned and that they'll be used in the social contracts we have coming to help build society. There is something auspicious that comes out of everything. We've debated the military guardian authority so much. We had to experience civilian authority as well. We needed to see what exactly would happen when our supervisory mechanisms were no longer in place. We need to see what would happen when media freedoms were eroded. And of course, we had to get to know people. We now know and understand civil society, journalists and even politicians better. Soon enough, we will hear great admissions, and great confessions. We will view all from this angle. In some sense, society is re-building its own sense of respect.

What sorts of tests are facing the Turkish media do you think?

A really tough test. Even during the final stage of the Ottoman era it wasn't like this. From time to time, people make comparisons to the “press of the Armistice era.” But not even the state of the press in that era was this bad. As someone who's been in this profession for 20 years, I ask people who've been doing this work for 50 or 60 years. I ask everyone; journalists, academics, lawyers, businessmen. I ask people as old as our republic; but no one can recall a period like this. Until recently, people would try to compare the state of our press to previous eras, like when Demirel was in power or during coup eras. But now everyone believes that in fact we're experiencing something different altogether. That our republic is facing one of its greatest tests ever. In this sense, I count myself lucky to be a journalist who witnessed the events of Feb. 28, I think those experiencing this now will later count themselves lucky. There will be so much to tell the future generations.

What do you feel about the day of the raid?

Since forever, journalism has been a tool for the powerful to create support for themselves. But the events that occurred at our media group did so precisely because we were not such a tool. It also happened because we allowed all views and all kinds of ideas in our work. So I'm comfortable actually. I think the raid on the İpek Media Group was a great example of what happens in these sorts of situations. I suppose it can be thought of as a gift to journalism.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 November 2015, Saturday