TESEV conference on media freedom in Turkey

The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), site Democratization Program, remedy
in co-operation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-Turkey, find
organised a one-day conference on ‘Media in the claws of market, power and ownership: Freedom of the press in Turkey’ under the framework of the MEDIADEM project. The conference, which took place on 23 November 2012 in Istanbul, explored the censorship practices emanating from economic, political and legal restrictions on media freedom as well as the culture of self-censorship these pressures have helped develop. The conference, consisting of three panels, was opened by Dilek Kurban, leader of the Turkish MEDIADEM team from TESEV, and Michael Meier, the Representative of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Turkey.

During the first panel, ‘Who determines the media policies in Turkey?’, Dr. Ceren Sözeri of Galatasaray University presented the TESEV report Caught in the wheels of power: The political, legal and economic constraints on independent media and freedom of the press in Turkey, drafted within the framework of the MEDIADEM project. Dr. Sözeri discussed the authoritarian, nationalist and conservative values shaping media policies in Turkey, which are prepared at the behest of the government following centralised and bureaucratic processes. Noting that media regulatory bodies lack independence from the government, she criticised the exclusion of the parliament from the election and monitoring of the members of these bodies. Among the other issues Dr. Sözeri underscored were the involvement of the large media groups in various sectors of the economy, the distribution of advertisement revenues among a particularly limited number of television broadcasters, journalists’ poor working conditions and extremely low salaries, and the low rates of media literacy in Turkey. Responding to Dr. Sözeri’s presentation, Mr. Vahap Darendeli of the Supreme Council of Radio and Television in Turkey, said that the criticisms against the enforcement decisions of the agency were misguided and disputed that the Supreme Council lacked independence. Pointing out that its members are elected by parliament, Mr. Darendeli argued that the Supreme Council of Radio and Television is ‘the most independent’ regulatory body in Europe. Also speaking as a discussant to the TESEV report, Mr. Dursun Güleryüz of the Professional Union of Broadcasting Organisations expressed the belief that the journalism standards developed by the union will solve the problem of lack of editorial independence in the Turkish media.

After lunch, the conference reconvened for the second panel on ‘Journalism in Turkey – The reflection of the media policies on freedom of the press?’. The panel hosted seven journalists from various newspapers and from a broadcasting company, which have different political leanings and are at different stages in their career. Ms. Defne Asal from IMC TV identified the media ownership structure as the greatest impediment to the independence of the media in Turkey and stated that the fight for an independent media is closely related to the democratisation process in the country. Mr. Vedat Kur?un of Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat mentioned that his paper, in circulation since 2006, is the first newspaper published in the Kurdish region and gave various examples about the state-induced pressure on Kurdish media in Turkey. He also briefed the audience about the criminal case against him, where 166 years of imprisonment sentence is currently on appeal. Mr. Utku Çak?rözer of daily Cumhuriyet criticised the Justice and Development Party’s accreditation practices against select media organs as anti-democratic. Mr. Ali Akel, formerly of daily Yeni ?afak, noted that the changes in media ownership after the 2001 financial crisis have made coverage of sensitive issues much more difficult. Mr. Ali Topuz from daily Radikal commented on editors’ relations with private capital in the media and stated that an editor who wants to be independent has to risk unemployment. Ms. Hilal Kaplan of the daily Yeni ?afak said that most of the editors-in-chief in Turkey are virtually at the behest of the media patrons and determine their editorial policies in accordance with the financial interests of their employers. Finally, Mr. Abdülhamit Bilici of daily Zaman made a brief historical analysis of the media-state relationship in light of the sociological changes in Turkey in the past half century.

The final panel of the conference was titled ‘New media and freedom of the press: New fields and new actors in access to news’. Mr. Do?an Ak?n, the editor of online news portal T24, emphasized the importance of developing professional codes of ethics in the journalistic profession. Stressing that the extremely high wages paid to a group of journalists have secured their indifference, Mr. Ak?n discussed the strategies T24 has adopted in order to remain financially and ideologically independent. Mr. Engin Önder and Mr. Cem Aydo?du stated that 140Journos, a citizen journalism initiative, was a reaction to the media’s indifference to the killing of 34 Kurdish civilians by Turkish military jets in December 2011 and said that their aim is to produce news through new technology. Mr. Ali R?za Kele? of the Association of Alternative Informatics highlighted the importance of collective struggle against media censorship and held the state and private actors principally accountable for the lack of freedom in the internet media. Finally, Dr. ?ncilay Cangöz of Anatolian University shared the findings of a research study on low income families’ access to the internet. Noting that the mainstream media ignore the poor segment of society, she noted that access to the internet is a fundamental right and that the government must ensure free access to all.

The agenda of the conference is available here (in English).

For more information you may contact Dilek Kurban.