Home / Articles / What’s next for Media Freedom in Turkey? (2)

28 June

What’s next for Media Freedom in Turkey? (2)

News coverage and media analysis will have to reflect the newly emerging political competition and duality at the helm of the state

As I argued in my previous column, in order to analyze what to expect for media freedom in Turkey after the June 7th elections, one has to separate the contextual from the structural.  Turkey's political context, defined by AKP's hegemony in the last 13 years, is now changing. This is good news for media freedom for a simple reason: the weakening of the AKP hegemony will alleviate some of the problems related to the monopolization of political and economic power in the country.
Once a coalition government emerges, the AKP will have to share political power. This new context will inevitably create more competition for state resources and create a more competitive framework of patronage where the AKP will no longer be able to exclusively dominate all networks of clientalism.  News coverage and media analysis will have to at least partly reflect this competition and duality at the helm of the state.
The emergence of a stronger opposition in Turkey in the wake of elections should also open more political space in the media for more critical reporting about the AKP. In this changing context and configuration of political power, the AKP and Erdogan will probably have a harder time to suppress dissenting voices, whistle blowers and corruption investigations.
Beyond these contextual elements, however, there are much more daunting fundamental challenges related to media freedom in Turkey. A large part of the problem is related to the ownership structure and crony capitalism characterizing the media business. It will take much more than contextual changes to alter these deeply rooted dynamics.  Almost all media owners in Turkey are people with no direct or indirect connection with the profession of journalism.  Most are politically well-connected businessmen who have paid enormous fortunes to purchase newspapers and TV channels, in order to enhance their chances of winning public contracts and tenders.
Cross-ownership is an integral dimension of the problem. Owners of the biggest media groups are involved as investors and shareholders in different sectors of the economy, such as health, education, construction, and telecommunication.  All the media groups have conflicting economic interests. The deals, tenders and mergers they are involved are often opaque as there is no regulation to guarantee the financial transparency. It is within the framework of this system that several of Turkey’s media moguls have been given extensive favors through public-works contracts, including huge urban construction projects in Istanbul.
In 1994, a ban was imposed preventing media owners from participating in public tenders, but it was lifted less than a decade later, after intense lobbying by media groups. The role of public tenders and privatization in maintaining government influence over media cannot be overstated. Additionally, the AKP government has amended the Public Tender Act more than 30 times since it took power in 2002 in order to better manipulate and control the system.
An additional perverse aspect of the media business is the absence of sound economic logic. Only a few large TV channels and newspapers make profits. Media owners consider their companies as a business expense in order to win lucrative public contracts.  They compensate their losses in the media sector by enhancing their financial profits in other economic sectors where their conglomerates are active. The price to pay for this quid pro quo is to submit the news to the will of the politicians. These structural predicaments turn the profession of journalism into a propaganda machine.
Not surprisingly, in such a media structure the coverage of economic corruption is almost zero. There are only a few small independent outlets, which dare to break stories critical of the government. However, since such stories are never picked up by the mainstream media, they end up having no impact on large segments of society. In most of Turkey's big media newsrooms, top editors receive astronomical salaries in order to serve as gatekeepers rejecting stories and comments that would jeopardize the political connections of their bosses. As one independent critic of the system put it succinctly “such conflicts of interest have transformed Turkey’s major newsrooms into prisons”. In this context, there is almost no need for law-enforced censorship since self-censorship has become the new norm.  Journalists and columnists who refused to abide by these norms are often fired.
The few and small media outlets which refuse to play in these norms face tremendous financial pressure. The easiest way for the government to manipulate the media is through the selective allocation of state advertising. For instance, when the leading telecom provider Türk Telekom, which is partly owned by the Treasury, celebrated its 175th anniversary it launched a major advertisement campaign in in 16 pro-government media outlets. Not surprisingly, oppositional newspapers, Zaman, BirGün, Bugün, Cumhuriyet, Meydan, Millet, Milli Gazete, Sözcü, Taraf, Today's Zaman and Yeni Asya were not supported by the funding from the company's advertisements.
None of these problems are likely to be simply solved with a changing political context. Instead structural changes in the legal framework are needed in order to ensure the independence and freedom of the Turkish media. The system of crony capitalism whereby corporate media owners are severely dependent on the government needs to be overhauled. The media owners must be banned from participating in public tenders. Cross-ownership must be sharply restricted, in order to establish diversity and fair competition. Measures to improve media freedom in Turkey will therefore require major amendments in the Law on Public Procurement, Competition Law and the Law on Public Advertising.


Twitter Facebook Google Plus
Please write to us: share your views, ideas, and suggestions about our work.

Share your opinion >>


Sign up to receive the latest updates on the P24.

Powered by PXLDeN Design