November 9, 2015

Will the media resist?

Mümtazer Türköne

The media's resistance to the ruling party so far has been stronger than most people's expectations.

Journalists have lost their jobs and have been imprisoned, but they haven't stopped staying on task. The same cannot be said, however, of the media owners. Media ownership is considered an unprofitable business among big capitalists and those who resist the ruling party's pressure lose not only their media outlets but everything. This is exactly what happened to Akın İpek, the CEO of one of Turkey's largest conglomerates, Koza İpek Holding, in the run-up to the general election. In order to silence İpek's media power, the ruling party confiscated all of his companies. The same threat applies to Aydın Doğan, the boss of several mainstream media outlets, who opts to remain neutral. The pro-government media outlets hurl one threat after another at Doğan, who then abandons his neutral policies and starts to parrot pro-government stories.

Sector conflicts in macroeconomic policies determine the balance between the ruling and opposition parties. The pro-government media outlets are supported by the contracting and banking sectors; on the other hand, the non-financial sector and industry-based big capitalists oppose the government's tax inspections and threats, as well as the way it distributes public funds. After the election, this resistance vanished and the large companies in the non-financial sector have been expressing their allegiance to the ruling party through several methods. The submission of the big capitalists makes the war fought heroically by journalists even more desperate.

Last week, Turkey's famous whistleblower Fuat Avni reported that the Samanyolu TV network and the Zaman newspaper will be seized in the same way İpek Koza Holding was confiscated. If this operation really occurs, Turkey's critical media will be restricted to low-circulating leftist papers and social media. In this case, the existence of freedom of the press will be questionable, which in turn will make the existence of democracy controversial. The ruling party circles closer to the palace are very reckless and they feel extremely spoiled after the election victory.

Famous political psychiatrist Vamık Volkan called the ruling party's election victory a "search for security against a vague enemy." When built upon fear, a government will turn into an uncontrolled and tyrannical administration, just as Thomas Hobbes described. It should be noted that the ruling party's media manipulations have a share in this. Pro-government media outlets fail to convey positive messages to the public; rather, they are very effective in terrorizing the public. Without a media power that justifies and advocates the society's quest for democracy and freedoms, people quickly surrender to these fear-instilling policies. Before the Nov. 1 election, the media went through a period of heavy pressure and couldn't help society make a choice among the parties. Even the media outlets' search for freedom was marketed by the ruling party as the reason for anarchy and chaos.

Even the EU's delay of its 2015 Turkey progress report, which gives wider coverage to media freedoms, was presented as a success on the part of the ruling party. Because the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) report hasn't been completed, the EU has not made any remark but the data at hand are sufficient enough to show that the election wasn't "free, fair or transparent.” Everyone knows about the pressure on media outlets and the use of advertising revenues to fund the pro-government media. The ads from public organizations as well as the private sector companies whose managers are appointed by the government aren't placed in neutral media outlets, let alone dissident ones. The G-20 summit meeting in Antalya is expected to produce critical messages to the ruling party regarding freedom of the press.

What is happening in Turkey is proof that freedom of expression is the mother of all other freedoms and democracy. The struggle for democracy is fought only by journalists for the sake of media freedoms and they don't intend to give up.

Published on Today's Zaman, 9 November 2015, Monday