Hâlâ Gazeteciyiz-Media Report-6 (September-2018)
PRESSURE AND PUNISHMENT IMPOSED UPON MEDIA WORKERS DURING THE AKP RULE: “THE SWORD HANGING OVER THE MEDIA”
Nalan Mumcu – Selma Koçak
The media is not only woven with capital and property relations but also is a medium through which the public subject is able to make its voice heard and participate in democratic discussions exercising its right to freedom of expression. Some of us get engaged in the media in order to take our fair share of power, while some of us do so “in spite of” power to exist. This contradictory existence of the media is found in the tense relation it forges with power and counter-power. Therefore, the media and its workers have never been free from the impact of dominant ideologies throughout history neither in Turkey nor in the world. This reality, however, has been taking place with a kind of indifference that does not even need a disguise during the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule.
This study focuses on the repressive and punitive practices that AKP has been exercising upon media workers during its continuous 16-year rule, notably following the declaration of State of Emergency (SoE), through interviews conducted with media workers. AKP’s policies towards the media are thus been rendered through the framework of “criminalization” departing firstly from the context of human rights and freedom of expression. The study then investigates the path to AKP’s media within the scope of capital relations along the turning points determined by the authors. Finally, the study is concluded with an assessment of repressive and punitive practices during the SoE alongside with the experiences and comments of 11 media workers interviewed.
“Media and Freedom of Expression” or “Law and Exception”
The presence of polyphony and pluralist media structures in the public sphere are among the indispensable components of democracy. Within the framework of the idea of representative democracy, the media (press), which is mostly implicated within civil society as an intermediary institution with regards to relations between the society and the state, is considered in practice to be the fourth estate from a rather optimistic approach (Tosun, 2007a: 81). There is, however, only one answer to the question “whose fourth estate” is the press with no agenda for human rights: Power’s! (Tosun 2007b: 21). Arendt differentiates between two phenomena about the term public: The first pertains to the fact that everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody, while the second signifies that the public is common to all of us (2003: 92-96). According to Fraser, too, the idea of an equalitarian and multi-cultural society only makes sense if we suppose a plurality of public arenas in which groups with diverse values and rhetorics participate (2004: 121). Certain fundamental conditions, however, should be fulfilled in order to create an equalitarian and multi-cultural sphere. These conditions refer to many aspects like legal, structural and economic, political, cultural, and social ones. For a start, the legal provision for freedom of expression and its associated rights must be guaranteed for all citizens because a dialectic of opinion is necessary for democracy and freedom of expression in relation to this dialectic necessary, not for the right of a private individual but as the contribution of the individual to the realization of the common good (Sarikakis, 2016:206-207).
Along with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights, and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights that Turkey has been a party to, Article 26 of the Turkish Constitution enshrines “freedom of expression and dissemination of thought” while Article 28 secures freedom of the press by stating that “The press is free, and shall not be censored.” Yet, all these provisions have not prevented Turkey from becoming one of the most restrictive countries with regards to the freedom of the media and freedom of expression among the Council of Europe member states since Turkey is listed among the top five countries with the most jailed journalists. According to the World Press Freedom Index issued annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkey went down two steps in comparison to the previous year and is now listed 157th out of 180 countries in the world rankings in 2018.
Although the history of criminalizing expression and censorship dates way back in Turkey, the main theme about freedom of expression changes with AKP’s coming into power. The vulgar methods of the 1990s have been replaced by more sophisticated censorship mechanisms (Akdeniz and Altıparmak, 2016: 170). This transformation was explained by one of our media worker interviewees as “In the past journalists were murdered, now journalism itself is being murdered” (G6). We know that this new method, defined by Jacob Weisberg as “less cruel but more effective”, functions through practices ranging from disemployment, discrediting, targeting, content intervention, prosecution by criminalization, arrests and attrition by lodging lawsuits for damages, to declaration of SoE. We are not sure about the “less cruel” part but we have been experiencing that it has become more effective.
How does the AKP government legitimize these repressive and punitive practices involving such overt violations against media workers? As Menderes Çınar has stated, firstly “AKP promoted its own struggle for power as a struggle for democracy.” Thus it criminalizes those that cut into, that can cut into, or even may cut into its continuity of power by declaring them as anti-state. AKP’s strategy of consolidating its own dominance and marketing this with a democracy/democratization label is actually based on denying everyone other than itself to say anything about democracy, disqualifying them from democratic politics, and thus declaring itself as an unrivalled democratic/democratizing power and champion of democracy. This reveals the fact that AKP regards democratization as the dissolution of the counter-power structure in order to normalize itself while considering advanced democracy to be the abnormalization of everyone in order to render itself democratic (2015: 17). In this way a gradually expanding part of the society loses its “right to have rights.” Not only media workers but also even the simple performers of everyday dissidence find themselves rapidly outside the legitimate political community and are “kicked out of” humanity in order to be served as lynching material within the framework of the motherland, nation, state rhetoric or under the “terrorist” label (Yılmaz, 2018: 19). This method of “kicking out” resorted to by political powers in the neoliberal age to depoliticize social issues is materialized by establishing control over and disciplining these dissident segments in question mostly through the rhetoric and practices of “fighting crime to provide security.” The pressure exercised over media workers also takes place mostly within the scope of “anti-terror” campaigns. At this point one needs to underline once again the decisiveness of exclusionism with regards to neoliberal hegemonic projects (Aydın, 2018: 185).
Agamben associates the practice of exclusion with exception. According to him, exception is an exclusion and it, at the same time, is the originary political activity, the foundation on which power rests. Yet the mentioned exclusion is not a state of being kicked out but is inclusive exclusion. Only the sovereign decision on the state of exception opens the space in which it is possible to trace borders between inside and outside and in which determinate rules can be assigned to determinate territories. Law, within this context, refers to an inclusive exclusion relation (Agamben, 2013: 32). Together with the process by which the exception everywhere becomes the rule; exclusion and inclusion, outside and inside, right and fact enter into a zone of irreducible indistinction (p. 18). We see these uncertainties in exceptional cases in everyday life in sentences beginning with “but”s: “but they are not in jail for journalistic activities,” “but he/she should not have wanted to separate the state,” “but he/she should not have leaked this confidential information to the press,” “but he/she should not have been attritional towards the government.” These “but”s become the loci where social legitimacy required for the survival of power is established and violence is legitimized. Legitimate violence and impunity date back to the Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki ) period and are to a large extent based on the reflex of the state to protect its “sacred” interests at all costs (Atılgan and Işık, 2011: 78). This mentality paves the way to the legitimization of many practices in the name of “those held sacred by the state and the nation” in spite of the fact that they are overtly prescribed as criminal offenses in law (Yıldız Tahincioğlu, 2016: 168).
Criminalization, which goes hand in hand with the neoliberal security paradigm used for the legitimization of violence, proves to be a practice that the Kurdish media has been subjected to since the very beginning. While the Kurds provide the “other” considered to be necessary by the power for the survival of the nation state as “inveterate enemies”, the Kurdish media can easily be criminalized at any time when the power wants it to be silenced. Kenan Kırkaya, the news chief of Dicle News Agency (DİHA), which was closed down after the declaration of the SoE by a decree-law, actually summarized this when he said: “Everyday is a SoE for the Kurdish press.” Lawyer Özcan Kılıç has also stated that the government’s lawsuits against the Kurdish press now took on a new concept with the SoE. Kılıç argued that a great majority of these lawsuits used to be lodged as per the Press Code in the past but recently a new formulation has been put into practice directly over allegations of “propaganda for an illegal organization” and “membership in an illegal organization” for the last two years. And the result: 84 journalists, 24 being arrested, from the Kurdish media stood trial within the scope of various lawsuits because of their news pieces having been charged with “propaganda for an illegal organization” or “membership in an illegal organization” only in September (2018).
This practice of criminalization directed mostly at the Kurdish media for a period has gradually expanded to cover all dissidents during the AKP rule. Media workers have been regrettably (!) turned into enemies because of their news pieces and shows alongside with everyone who said “no” to it, sometimes along with its old friends, on the grounds that they betrayed “those held sacred by the state and the nation”:
See what fate unfortunately brings about! See what fate brings about! Who stands side by side with whom. See what fate brings about… Sighs See what fate brings about… From whence to where? Count no man happy till he dies. These are all trials… All trials…
The Ergenekon process started in 2007 has been a sign that this antagonization could be spread to the whole society. Individuals from all segments of the society, including media workers, were attempted to be associated with the incident and a climate of fear was attempted to be created. We can understand that the project was successful as the following words of our media worker interviewee suggest:
I believe that the period that began with the start of Ergenekon is peerless in the history of the press in Turkey. It is a period that is unique in all its aspects (…) Ergenekon is a period during which evidence was manufactured, people were discredited in the absence of evidence; voice and image recordings were unveiled, people were threatened by this, a sword was hanging over journalists by continuously implying that you too could be put in this bag. (…) When you resist these, when you defend rights, you risk becoming blacklisted as being pro-Ergenekon, risk the possibility that everyone you talk to can be thrown into the same bag. (…) What was it that we were used to? You conducted your journalistic activities in a dissident manner against the power, you got prosecuted and other stuff or there was a military government; they had their repression and martial law. These offered you a more transparent, a foreseeable universe in which you could see what might happen to you. Ergenekon, on the other hand, is completely different in this aspect. It is a very tough period during which there is no foreseeability whatsoever, you can never differentiate between what is true or false. It is a nightmarish period (G7).
One can argue that “this peerless period in the history of the press in Turkey” has initiated a state of emergency for all the media including the mainstream and the power developed a new method of struggle by “antagonization” of all who let out a dissident voice and by deepening the polarization between different segments. The same method of struggle was activated during the Gezi Uprising, which started in May 2013 in Istanbul as well. According to Bora, during these protests, that rapidly spread to the whole country and became mass protests, AKP’s concerns were further deepened when “radical” leftist groups and Kemalists, alongside with independent masses, took to the streets and slogans making fun of women in headscarves and religious-conservatives were heard. The pro-government media and Erdoğan himself talked more of such incidents and when this proved to be insufficient, they manufactured some and scandalized them. The claim that people drank alcohol in the Dolmabahce Mosque and the “Kabataş incident” can be listed among the instances of such mentality. Although the muezzin of the mosque himself refuted this claim and although it was revealed that the Kabataş incident was not true, the news pieces about these served as phantasmagoria about the vandalism of Gezi protesters (2017: 500).
The 17-25 December process broke out at the end of 2013 immediately after the quenching of Gezi incidents that went on for 3-4 months although their impact and volume decreased. This process, which severed the ties between the AKP government that “gave whatever the Gulenists wanted” and the Gulen sect, also paved the way to the July 15 coup d’état. The main target of the government was the sect’s media although during this process many publication and broadcast bans were imposed and pressure against those who did not comply with the bans covered the whole media. The sect’s media that weighed upon the government with news of corruption faced severe tax penalties and penal sanctions. It was completely eliminated following the failed coup attempt of July 15. With regards to the field of human rights, when one somewhat rubs out the defects of the attitude of the media, which was silenced before all these practices of AKP regarding the media, one can conclude that monopolization and media ownership based on big capital underlying this attitude are problematic to a great extent (Tosun: 2007a: 100).
The Path to AKP’s Media 
In Turkey newspapers that had initially been owned by those who were journalists by profession and then television stations have been exposed to changes and transformations also with the impact of worldwide developments since the 1980s. The important characteristics of this process, which was referred to as the “new media architecture” by Adaklı and during which the “press” was replaced by the “media”, include the fact that the sector has become a significant component of big capital giving way to the exclusion of economically and politically disadvantaged groups from the sector, deterioration in the working conditions of the labor force and in personal rights in the sector, the fact that the conditions for membership in trade unions were made more difficult, the accumulation of poor-quality products mostly based on sensation and manipulation in content, and the transformation of media executives and columnists to ideologues that shape the media (2010: 74-75). Certain significant turning points should be mentioned in order to understand the above-mentioned practices of AKP towards the media. The moments of rupture here are regarded to be the times when the bells of “nothing will be the same anymore” tolled, while no methods of struggle could be developed against these and thusly these are studied within the scope of the elimination of the Uzan Group, ATV-Sabah, and the Doğan Group alongside with the administrative takeover in the daily Cumhuriyet focusing on the 16-year AKP rule.
The Uzans take us back to the beginning of the 2000s, exactly to the year when AKP claimed power. Cem Uzan, who founded Young Party (Genç Parti) in 2002 and succeeded in winning a 7.5% vote rate with the contribution of the daily Star that turned into the media outlet of the party for the elections, was targeted by AKP that came to power alone winning the same elections. The Uzan Group entered into the process of elimination upon the seizure of Imar Bank by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) a year after the elections. At the end of this process Star was taken from the Young Party and was handed to AKP (Özvarış, 2018: 460). According to Adaklı, although the association of the surprising vote rate of the Young Party with the seizure of the bank could not be verified empirically, it would later be supported by other instances of AKP’s strategic plan rendering the media sector holistically, sparing no effort into engaging in an overt struggle with other groups that might rival it (2010: 77). TMSF seized a total of 219 companies owned by the Uzan Group, including daily Sabah and Star TV, because of Imar Bank’s debts in 2004. Sancak, who a while later became the sole owner of the daily that he bought some shares of in 2007, speaks of his purchase of Star as such:
Mr. Tayyip was driven into a corner; party closure cases, [Constitutional Court’s] 367 ruling, etc. The press was univocal, trying to subdue him. We talked with Hasan Doğan wondering “What can we do for him?” We said, “Let us break this univocality in the field of the press. (…) We expanded Star. We understood that a daily was not sufficient enough. It was a discredited daily after all. We founded the TV station 24. I had embarked on that business precisely for my own ideals, to be able to better serve him. (cited in: Özvarış, 2018: 460).
The next point of rupture proved to be the elimination of the Sabah-ATV group. Dinç Bilgin, who got into debt by founding a TV channel for the sake of rivaling Aydın Doğan and daily Hürriyet, was headed for a fall when he got entangled with politics by getting into the banking sector (Önkibar, 2015: 38). The bank owned by the group was seized by the TMSF in 2000 because of its public debts and Bilgin’s media group was sold to Merkez Publishing owned by Turgay Ciner in 2005. But on April 1, 2007 the TMSF re-seized Bilgin’s media assets that had been sold to the Ciner Group. They were sold to the Turkuvaz Group owned by Ahmet Çalık upon the finalization of the bidding process on December 5, 2007 (Kuyucu, 2013: 154). An important feature of Ahmet Çalık was the fact that the then Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke of him as “Our Çalık” (Eğin, 2011: 120). Thus, following the Uzans, the Sabah-ATV group was handed to AKP as well. In the media sector and accordingly in cultural life a new phenomenon was brought about by the handover of media companies of the Uzan and Sabah groups to ones close to AKP one by one: “AKP’s media.” According to Adaklı, this structure was directly based on property relations, was able to shape political controversy over the same structure again, and was able to directly take sides in conflicts among different capital fractions as opposed to the former governments that had been in close contact with the dominant media (Adaklı, 2010: 77-79).
Visual 1: Sözcü, 7 December 2012
[Favor to Deniz Feneri from AKP!]
The elimination of the Doğan Group was the next step in the construction process of “AKP’s media.” One can argue that the time when Aydın Doğan was targeted by the government coincides with the same period during which news reports about Deniz Feneri were frequently published by the Doğan Group and the documents were disclosed. These were news reports about a lawsuit filed against “Deniz Feneri e.V” Association that was active in Germany for charges of misuse of funds in the amount of 41 million Euros that it collected (Adaklı, 2010: 79). Therefore, the process was initiated for Doğan media group as well, which was perceived to be an “enemy” that had to be disposed of for AKP. The Doğan Group, challenged by high tax fines, on the other hand, downsized and a great share of it was sold to the Demirören Group in 2018. The intervention staged against the Doğan Group naturally affected others as well: “There is now a media that is even scared of the Prime Minister’s shadow. The issue is not only Aydın Doğan anyway; the message hit home immediately by other dailies and bosses.” (Eğin, 2011: 31).
Visual 2: Weekly Penguen, 21 March 2013/12
[-Don’t spill crunches on the floor!
-I won’t, I’ve rolled out a newspaper boss…]
After the elimination of the sect’s media, finally the administration of the daily Cumhuriyet was changed in September 2018. Many media employees resigned. As this has been a recent development the kind of plans that underlie the takeover are yet to be known. However, when one considers the fact that a figure, who testified in a lawsuit within the scope of which the daily’s administrators stood trial, is now made the chairperson of the [Cumhuriyet] foundation, it will not be very hard to read this as part of the elimination process towards the path to AKP’s media as well.
Visual 3: Direniş Postası, 10 September 2018. – Daily Cumhuriyet, 9 September 2018
[Direniş Postası: Cumhuriyet is under Erdoğan’s control
Cumhuriyet: 94-year-old time-honored daily]
To sum up, the 2000s can be called the TMSF years for the media in Turkey because it seized the media assets of media owners who were not able to pay their debts to the state. As a result of these seizure practices media assets were sold to other capital owners, ushering new capital owners to the media sector (Kuyucu, 2013: 154). Of course, all these change/transformation relations had their repercussions on media workers, their work practices, and professional habits as well: Since “Now they had a brand new addressee before them. Those who had been working with media bosses until today would now be working with bureaucrats. In order to do business with a bureaucrat, it was important to have contact with the politicians that he/she was close to as well as to establish distance, proximity. Indeed, it has been the case” (Eğin, 2011: 102-103).
ROUTINE OPPRESSION IN THE SoE :
Repressive and Punitive Practices Targeting Media Workers in the SoE
While the SoE provided AKP with the opportunity to radically transform power relations in the field of culture and possess totally the ideological production and reproduction apparatuses (Aydın, 2018:194), for media workers it meant impossibility of practicing one’s profession as a result of such experiences as being dismissed and getting arrested. So far in this study we have tried to elucidate the fact that repression and punishment targeting media workers did not begin with the SoE, which was declared on July 20, 2016 and was extended 7 times for 3 months within 2 years, and how the capital and media policies of the government together paved the way to these practices. In this section, we will focus on how the critical threshold involving the current repression that media workers suffer from has been passed and what these repressive practices mean for media workers and how they are experienced by media workers. Before setting forth though, we would like to remind you that while SoE began with the Ergenekon for the mainstream media, for the Kurdish media SoE had always been there from the very beginning:
If SoE can be defined as repression, dismissals, an atmosphere in which the distinction between the guilty and not guilty party has been dissolved, in short, if it can be described as anti-democratic practices that are incongruous with universal norms, then Turkey has always been in SoE. (…) The criminalized atmosphere especially after 2007 was a period in which we always felt under pressure, even psychological pressure at that, I always felt insecure. It was really a period in which the idea of going into jail, or the question how I would be spotted was highly prevalent, a period when you knew you could be targeted by your colleague sitting next to you. (…) Was journalism a tougher job in SoE after July 15 than it was in 2007? I do not know; it is open to question. For us SoE had already begun in 2007 and continued, anyway. The mainstream media has been living under severe SoE conditions since then (G7).
The Integral Part of SoE: Decree Laws
The most acute and visible form of repression and punishment in the SoE period was, without a doubt, Decree Laws. In the two-year SoE period, a total of 174 media outlets were closed down with 37 Decree laws on the charge that “they were connected with terrorist organizations.” Decree Laws, which undermined freedom of expression and the press, became a straightforward means of punishment for media/press workers whose names appeared in the Decree Law lists; for those who have not (yet) been punished it became a means of repression since they were forced to censorship and self-censorship so that their names would not appear in the lists. In the SoE 70 dailies, 20 magazines, 33 TV channels, 30 publishing houses and distribution companies and 34 radio stations were closed down with Decree Laws. We have already discussed what it means to close down a media outlet in terms of freedom of expression and the press in the first section. But what does the closing down of a media outlet mean for media workers? Closing down of a media outlet means not only rendering media workers jobless but also blacklisting, criminalizing them, thus preventing them from finding employment in another institution, defaming them, depriving them of their press cards, incapacitating them by appropriating their equipment. One media worker who we interviewed summarizes his/her views on the closing down of a media outlet as follows:
This means that media workers will never be able to make both ends meet again. Because the Cemaat (Gülen Movement) media had already been expropriated before July 15. Most of the media outlets that were shut down with Decree Laws were (dissident) institutions which had been established with great effort, which acquired its materials with utmost difficulty, paid their employees wages laboriously and suffered from criminal proceedings and risk of actions for damages. It is almost impossible for the colleagues working there to find a new workplace. Closing down an institution with a Decree law means destroying that institution and its employees. It means driving them to a point where they cannot speak (G7)
Closures were put into effect not only through Decree Laws but also decisions of RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council) Commission, which was established with Decree Law No 668. In Paragraph 2 of Article 4 of Decree Law No 668, it was stated that radio and television organizations, newspapers and periodicals, publication and distribution channels that did not appear in the annexed list could be closed down upon the proposal of the commission to be established by the minister in the relevant ministries. This provided the government with the opportunity that facilitated the closing down of media outlets and practicing repression on media workers. Thus, this penalized not only media workers by rendering them jobless but also citizens by depriving of them the right to have access to information:
A TV channel that was affiliated to our company was closed down. It was a very small TV channel. But they closed it down. And now there is no way for us to establish it again. Well, what happened then? Still the country is in turmoil. The workers are out in the street, demonstrating. The crisis is at its initial stage but still can be felt. Now there is almost no media outlet covering these events. If our TV channel was still on the air, it could broadcast how shopkeepers and shoppers who have no money left in their pockets suffered from the crisis. It would also reveal the incongruity between what they and the government says. It would also reveal the fact that this issue has nothing to do with outside forces but completely a crisis arising from the management of the economy. Closures are not merely an issue of journalists losing their jobs. Surely, some hundred colleagues have lost their jobs, but at the same time the public has been deprived of its right to receive news, especially through TV(G6).
In the SoE period, significant changes were made in Decree Laws No 680 and 690 so as to enlarge the contents and scopes of broadcasting/publishing that could be subjected to administrative sanctions concerning media service providers. In these Decree Laws in the SoE, a fourth paragraph was added to Article 2 of the RTÜK Law No 6112; thus judicial authority in media was extended much further in Turkey than it was in other countries. Article 32 of the same law was changed, increasing sanctions and enlarging RTÜK’s authority in terms of broadcasting license.
Disemployment: Business as Usual in the Media
Though disemployment did not appear in the media sector through SoE or Decree Laws, it is estimated that at least 3,000 journalists were disemployed in SoE. Since media workers who lost their jobs for this reason or another are subjected to repression in every period we even came across interviewees from the media sector who said this had no journalistic value:
Unfortunately disemployment in the media is taken as something more natural in Turkey than in almost all the other sectors. Both within the and without the media. (…) On the contrary, because it has become a commonplace, one evening you receive a call and they say “Unfortunately we have to dismiss you”. Or maybe you may not receive such a call that evening but they tell it to you in person. Or they may not even tell you in person, you go to work and your security pass card simply does not work. They might as well notify you later, and so on. The process works in such simple methods (G7).
Disemployment of a media worker in SoE did not come about only through the closure of the media outlet with a Decree Law or dismissal by a media boss. Media workers were also prevented from doing their jobs due to such factors as the increasing repression of the government in SoE period, the changing of the codes in media with the rise of AKP media, off-putting lawsuit processes, the fear of being arrested, coercion to resignation and circumvention of news/program contents. One interviewee answered our question about for how long he/she has been working as a journalist in the following way, which was more revealing in terms of the reason why he/she failed to do journalism:
I have been endeavoring to do journalism for 4 years. I say “endeavoring” because journalism is one of the most dangerous professions in Turkey. We know there are journalists who have been assassinated in the past. Today, however, journalism is being rendered dysfunctional in a sense through imprisonment, detention and dismissal. SoE was declared after the July 15 coup attempt and a wholesale attack was launched, which targeted all walks of life. The streets were banned; and journalism is a profession that depends on having access to streets to survive. Along with the bans, the police violence made our profession rather difficult (G4).
In most cases, working in the media and especially journalism is usually glorified. However, this leads to the neglect of the economic aspect that comes with disemployment. Though some of our interviewees seem to support this view with statements such as “journalists are in love with their profession,” “the best profession in the world,” “there is no such thing as losing one’s own job in journalism, one always has their notebook and pen with them” and “journalism is not a job you could do for the sake of winning your bread”, especially disemployed media workers said that they are not exempt from the economic outcomes of being unemployed; this found its repercussions directly in their process of making news, in other words, this was not sustainable.
Definitely, disemployment means something further than having no bread and butter. Making news is a costly process. If you are going to make a news story about İdlib, you cannot do it at your table. The news has to contain a new piece of information. To reach that information involves, at best, going from one place to another; let us say making a phone call. For one thing, if you are represented at a media outlet, your news source may feel far more inhibited towards you. If you have to travel somewhere you may have to spend the last bit of money in your pocket. This is not something like taking a bus from downtown to another neighborhood. I mean you may have to go to İdlib. Trials may be moved to another city. You may have to stay overnight, talk to lawyers, and even treat your news sources to a meal. These are all the kind of things that make journalism impossible for you. Producing a news content involves such pecuniary things. Therefore, we tend to produce nothing but opinion texts. In this way journalism becomes an impossibility (G7).
An interviewee, who said he/she looked for a job for a while after being “fired” but gave up since he/she “could not succeed”, talked about the difficulties he/she experienced in an alternative media outlet where she worked voluntarily without getting any financial support:
The difficulty in terms of broadcast is making a sound evaluation of the day, which means spending a considerable amount of time doing research to have a better notion of what is going on; in terms of the quality of the broadcast, the difficulty lies in being dependent on the speed of internet connection and feeling sorry when the broadcast goes off where the connection is weak. Apart from this, the biggest issue is increasing the number of followers. This means that we need the support of people with high number of followers. For example, high number of followers in Twitter is important. The difficulty of asking such people for help can be understood only by those who experience it (G9).
Visual 4: Alternative Media Collage
Being dismissed as a media worker is different from other sectors in another respect. The number of mainstream media or media bosses with plenty of capital is not many. For one thing, finding a job again is almost impossible when you get fired compared to people in other sectors. Both the effect of ownership relations and the ideological polarization between newspapers play an important role in this.
Arrests: Giving the Message “Do Not Go into the Mine Field”
According to the findings of the Platform for Solidarity with the Arrested Journalists (Tutuklu Gazetecilerle Dayanışma Platformu) (TGDP) there are 217 arrested and convicted journalists in prisons, 32 of which are publishers and editors in chief.
Visual 5: tgs.org.tr, June 4, 2014
We had mentioned the criminalization of media workers… it might be useful to have a look at the allegations for which media workers were arrested and tried. 20 journalists and media representatives received 20 aggravated life sentences and 3 journalists received aggravated life sentences for the allegation of participating in the coup. 12 journalists (1 acquitted) are being judged for the indictment of espionage and revealing state secrets and 1 life sentence and 509 years are demanded. 49 journalists and media workers face 276 years of imprisonment for allegations of making organization propaganda and publishing the organization’s statements. In these trials 6 people received 12 years 9 months imprisonment, 1 person was acquitted and 4 new lawsuits were filed. 143 journalists are being judged and 2,159 years are sought for the charges of assisting and committing crimes with an armed terrorist organization while not leading it or being a member of it. 25 people were sentenced to 174 years and 6 months. 8 people were acquitted and 7 new lawsuits were filed. 10 journalist are being tried for the indictment of praising and encouraging crime while one journalist have been sentence to 5 month imprisonment for provoking people into committing crime. A sentence of 6 years is sought for 2 reporters on grounds of compromising secrets, while one was acquitted. 13 years and 6 months is sought for 3 journalists on trial for the allegation of provoking hate and enmity. Despite all these figures, the government repeats the same assertion: “They are not in prison for their journalism activities.”
Those people who are jailed have no title as journalists. They have either worked with the terror organization or were in possession of a firearm. Some even vandalized cash machines and robbed banks. But they have a journalist card, not a yellow press card, in their pockets. Still they claim to be journalists. And there are no 170 journalists in prison as you have just stated, these are all lies. This is totally out of question. We have stated this time and again; at the moments there are two people in prison who could be called journalists in real terms. Apart from them, this is out of question. Let us not deceive the World wit such lies.
Another interviewee of ours, who stated that suing journalists has become a commonplace and that those who have not been judged are treated as if they were not journalists at all and he/she himself/herself has been tried countless times, summarizes the impact of lawsuits filed against media workers as follows:
These are significant not because the journalists have the fear that they may be arrested. Rather, it is more about the questions “What subjects are in the mine fields? Which ones are not?” I think this is the only one of the reasons why lawsuits are filed. These lawsuits give the journalists and newspapers the message “If you do not enter into those mine zones, I will not trouble you.” The newspapers would not publish stories from those mine fields because they no longer want to enter that zone even if journalists are willing to take the challenge. To my mind, journalist lawsuits are the basic dynamics in the natural process of censorship and self-censorship (G7).
One of the most common forms of repression and punishment in the AKP era was libel lawsuits. In the period April-June 2018 32 journalists were judged for “defamation” allegations and a total of 77 years 4 months was sought for them; four of these journalists were sentenced to 1 year 10 months and 5 days in total (11 months and 290 days of which was reprieved). Lawsuits for mental anguish were filed against seven journalists and 4 million 40 thousand TL was demanded in return for pecuniary or non-pecuniary damages; three of these cases were new in which 1 million 540 thousand TL was demanded, while two lawsuits with 500 thousand TL demand were dismissed by the local court. In the last three months, 16 journalists have been put on trial in which 74 years and 8 months in total was sought on account of their opinion and criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
If the defendant is employed at a media institution, compensation in lawsuits for damages, though personal, are usually paid by the institution. If you are employed at a mainstream media outlet that is directly connected to the capital, payment of the compensation by the institution is no big issue; however, this is not the case with the dissident media outlets because even when the institution pays for the compensation it may have grave sanctions on the media worker or the media outlet itself. This is illustrated by an interviewee by means of his/her experience in his/her newspaper:
A lawsuit for damages has been filed against me; it has not yet been concluded but my newspaper has been receiving fines from colleagues’ cases. Of course, these fines are paid by the institution. But all these lawsuits coming one after the other are rather damaging because we are a newspaper that can barely survive. We think that suffocating us financially is the purpose. Otherwise I do not think these guys are in need of such small amounts of money. Assuming that I paid 25,000 or 50,000 TL to this defandant, what will he gain anyway? But these sums of money are too much for my newspaper to handle. I keep having nightmares thinking what would I do if I received 3 fines (G6).
Another punitive method for media workers who do not have much leeway left due to Decree Law victimizations, arrests, disemployment and lawsuits for damages is the arbitrary practices concerning yellow press cards.
Press Card Practices: “Having it is not a blessing, not having it a curse”
Another striking regulation in terms of media in the SoE period is the closure of the Directorate General of Press and Information (BYEGM), which was the authority in issuing of yellow press card, and handing over of the same authority completely to the Presidency Directorate of Communication in July 2018 with the Decree Law No. 703. Though the use of press cards as a means of repression over the media by the government and the capital, like other oppressive and punitive practices, dates back to pre-SoE period, this closure brough a new dimension to the repression. As summarized in the press release issued by Progressive Journalists’ Association following this closure, “The handing over the Directorate to a body belonging to the Presidency means the escalation of both privileges and censorship. These are the most mounting evidence of the desire to turn the pro-government ‘journalism’, which has a long history of ‘success,’ into the “Palace pro-Presidency Journalism”.
Visual 6: Daily Birgün, July 10, 2018
Visual 7: Daily Sabah, January 5, 2017.
In the first year of the SoE yellow press cards of 889 journalist were cancelled. In a statement by Abdülhamit Gül, the then Minister of Justice, National Security Policy was counted among the reasons for this move. Our interviewees, on the other hand, provide a different account of these cancellations and the reason why they cannot get press cards:
The cancellation of yellow press cards is a means of oppression by the government. Through this very decision the government wishes to divide us into “journalists who support us” and “journalists who do not do so” just like it wishes to divide the whole society. If you are a dissident, you cannot have a yellow press card, even if you do, you cannot get it accredited. So what counts is not the color of your press card, it is the “name” printed on the card (G8).
There are applications still awaiting approval that have not been turned down for two years. In fact, they neither approve applications nor turn them down. The applications are left hanging in the midair; press cards are not issued but they are not declined either. They do not say “You have no right to obtain press card” so that you cannot demand for an answer and take legal action. None. Thus you are blocked from practicing jour job. When you go to the Parliament, that card is demanded for entry but still they do not simply give that card (G6).
In addition to the failure to access news sources due to disregarding of press cards issued by media outlets on the grounds that they are inadequate and the cancellation of yellow press cards (or impossibility of obtaining them) this situation makes it easier to criminalize journalists and renders them more vulnerable against punishment:
There is this obvious practice: the police ask for your “yellow press card” and you do not have one, it has been seized by the government never to be retuned. What is more your outlet’s press card is not accepted as a valid one. This is an outright violation of the right to work as a journalist. You are surrounded from all sides. And you are not able to attend a meeting that is taking place at that moment. If you do not have a yellow press card, you may even get arrested. After the July 15 incident we refrained from sending colleagues who did not have yellow press card to make news. We feared they might be detained, and indeed some colleagues were detained (G6).
Solidarity among journalists and reporters, who are exposed to a lot of oppression and threats, could be realized only with a limited number of people working in the same media outlet. One of the main reasons is the weakening of unionization and isolation of media workers against oppression.
Difficulty of Solidarity and Penalization of Unionization
Media workers have the need to unionize to obtain self-security and protect their rights just like all other workers; nevertheless, it is possible to assert that unionization in Turkey, especially in the AKP era, has been almost totally eradicated. One of the main reasons why media workers are subjected to so much oppression is the fact that they were unionized. One of our interviewees relates the kind of oppression they have experienced because they are union members as follows:
I have been subjected to mobbing and repression just like other workers, in this process in which Turkish Journalists’ Union, which is active in this media outlet with its 90-year long tradition and its veteran staff, have been targeted. I received official reprimands and later disciplinary penalty because of “my union activities”. My deparment has been changed three times regardless of my experience and qualifications and I have been rendered idle. My moves within the institution have been watched all the time, I have been exposed to verbal violence and mobbing. They have barred me from doing journalism, increasing my night duties (G3).
I experienced this kind of unfair treatment for a while especially because of my choice of union. Though they did not openly tell me the reason why, they changed my department despite my consent, they suggested that I change my union. I was exposed to an atmosphere where I felt anxious/uneasy (G2).
Individuals as well as the organization (Turkish Journalists’ Union) experienced tremendous surges of oppression. We were exposed to such treatment more profusely. Any form of censorship and self-censorship was available … We fellow directors came first in reassignments but many people who did not subscribe to the government’s views were also subjected to reassignments. I was first exiled to photography section as an archivist, then I was made into a montage worker though I was employed as a reporter. Many people were forced to retire. All our peers who were in good terms with the management were promoted to managerial and editorial positions, we had to be content with tasks in archive and montage. Another issue in this period was the quality of the news. The bulletins, which harbored all the spectrums of the political views, suddenly became pro-AKP. As a result of the repression, there were just a few members left from Turkish Journalists’ Union. We the remaining members always acted in solidarity. However, in this long period of oppression we became gradually increasingly isolated. Before being fired, there was no one left who could dare sit at the same table with us in the canteen (G1).
All these forms of oppression targeted not only unionized workers; like other forms of repression they also served as a threat to others. Many media workers were intimidated and terrorized in this way. As a result, the means of solidarity were also choked. Likewise our interviewees stated that solidarity, which was hard to come by amongst media workers, died down:
Our workmates usually flinched from openly supporting us since they feared their status and working conditions would be jeopardized. Some friends even excluded us from their company. Except for the goodwill gestures amongst us in the personal sphere, it is hard to say we saw support especially in the last period. (G3).
In some periods there were dismissals in the newspaper and some friends lost their jobs. Our solidarity did not go beyond consoling them. I have neither the power nor position to stop this situation from happening (G5).
Our interviewees, who are experienced in terms of solidarity and common acting grounds since they are unionized, admitted that they lost their workmates’ open support especially as a result of the increasing mobbing and repression within the institution though they made their best to engender solidarity among workers. One interviewee summarizes the conditions in his/her previous workplace where he/she worked at a time when unionization and solidarity was almost totally dried up due to repression:
I feel that at the end of the restructuring process, oppressive practices subsided or became unnecessary especially with the change of the management. Few experienced workmates who continue to work say that there is a dramatic decline in terms of reporting both qualitatively and quantitatively and that political news are dictated directly by the authorities. In addition, there is not a single worker left who is a member of Turkish Journalists’ Union (G3).
Solidarity is gradually dwindling in institutions where there is not even a single member of the labor union. Naturally it does not sound realistic at all to talk about “independent”, “unbiased”, “free” news contents in media outlets where workers, who have to resist repression and mobbing and to cope up with this on their own, are rendered defenseless against all types of interference.
Interfering with Content: “To Hell with Your Journalism”
“It turns out that censorship is not necessarily that unseen power that sees through everything or that distant dictator that hovers above his subjects’ head like a ghost… It may as well echo within ourselves, take root in our ego, haunt us like a spy, or be our female secretary that warns us not to go too far. The censor within us always reminds us that the stakes are dear: our reputation, our family, our profession, our job, the legal status of our company is on the line. It may induce us to shut up, shudder, smile gently and think twice…”(Keane, 1991: 56)
It is quite common that news stories should go through an editorial process and sometimes some stories may not get printed. However, we witness these days that many newspapers come out with the same headlines as a result of repression and interference that rocketed in the AKP era. We also see that the government not only interferes with the contents of news thanks to the partisan media that it has engendered but also dictates straightforwardly content itself:
[The media outlet I used to work for] turned into one totally guided and manipulated by the government. The veteran staff was forced to retire, thus all the corporate values of journalism and publishing principles that were handed down through master-apprentice relationship went down the drain. Tens of newly recruited people began working, contrary to established routine, furnished with titles of broad authorities. As a result, it began to function like the Directorate General of Press and Information. It launched a sensational and dubious broadcasting, propagandist in nature, designed to cater for the government’s domestic and foreign policies (G3).
We cannot always make the news we wish to make. There are news stories that Head Office in Istanbul want to print. They tell us and we have no other option other than making these stories (G5).
Visual 8: beyazgazete.com, March 3, 2013.
The most significant effect of these repressive and punitive practices on media workers is self-censorship. Considering AKP’s media strategy up to now, it can be easily seen that the purpose in imposing a fine or practicing oppression on a media worker is nothing but this. Our interviewees, employed in a handful of dissident media outlets or in the foreign press and subjected to different sorts of oppressive practices from closing down outlets to arresting journalists, told us they did not have any problems in terms of interfering with content:
I was free to make any news I wished to. Of course, since this was a news agency your news is reviewed by the editor, who may correct or shorten your text. There was not much interference involved except for journalism principles (G11).
Since I work for foreign media outlets I do not get censored; however, this does not mean that I feel totally free while making news (G10).
Lack of corporate interference with the content does not mean that media workers feel free since they are living in Turkey, where even foreign reporters get imprisoned. Therefore, we believe that all those repressive and punitive practices we have dwelling upon ought to be treated, in the final analysis, as an interference with the content. After all, as one interviewee stated, all repressive and punitive practices “kill journalism. They produce a destructive effect on journalists’ power that enables them to question, investigate and ask authorities the question ‘why’” (G9). At the same time, this stops media workers from getting rid of the disturbing question “what if I get into trouble?”, or, in other words, from doing their job free from self-censorship.
In conclusion, social and political opponents in Turkey have been antagonized, disregarding their freedom of expression, by citing them along with different “enemies of democracy” in different periods: in the Ergenekon period “guardianship supporters”, during the Gezi protests “plunderers”, during the July 15 Coup Attempt “Fetöcüler” (the Gulenists) assaulted our national democracy (!) and media workers, who collaborated with these “enemies” by means of the news and programs they made, were criminalized. Surely, capital relations and oppression targeting media bosses that has a long history also played a role in this. “Erdoğan and media tycoons did all they could in the field of media ownership so as to create a thorn-free rose garden; however, when discordant voices were raised from the dominant media, they took recourse to ‘legal’ and ‘judicial’ solutions” (Aydın, 2015: 24). And when this fell short, they put the SoE switch on, which could iron out the kinks and justify all oppressions and intrusions.
We mentioned some of the repressive and punitive practices in the section on repression and penalties in the SoE period. However, we know that these repressive and punitive practices are not limited to these. For example, one of our interviewees said he was forced to become a refugee because of the repression he experienced and the risk of getting imprisoned. Another practice we did not dwell upon was the threats concerning passports which were applicable to the society in general, that is, the insinuation that said “I can take you to court any time, put you in prison, so do not move anywhere for the time being” (G8). We were not able to focus on all types of repression. One reason for this was the limitation arising from the study, another and the main reason was the number of interviewees we consulted was only 11. Considering the fact that repression can take different forms for almost every single person, our endeavor would fall short no matter how extensively we wrote.
The Constitution prescribes that Decree Laws made in SoE must pertain to the issues that necessitate the declaration of SoE only. In addition, it guarantees that no prospective regulations that may have effect the period after SoE be made. However, even looking merely at the changes concerning media suggests that the amendments and repressions launched in the SoE period have already violated this limitation. Since the codes of the field have been altered, it seems that creating a free press in Turkey would take long years even if ideal working conditions in line with universal legal norms for media workers were secured.
NALAN MUMCU graduated from the Faculty of Communication at Kocaeli University. She started working as a Research Assistant at Hacettepe University as an ÖYP (Instructor Training Program) Research Assistant for Gaziantep University. She completed her MA program with the dissertation titled “İşçi Sınıfına Bakmak: Çerkezköy’de İşçi Sınıfı ve Gündelik Hayat” (A Glance at the Working Class: The Working Class and Daily Life in Çerkezköy). She was dismissed from her public service on October 29, 2016 with the Decree Law No. 675. Currently she is a PhD student at the department of Communication Studies at Hacettepe University.
SELMA KOÇAK graduated from the Faculty of Communication, Ankara University. In 2009 she started working at Hacettepe University as an ÖYP (Instructor Training Program) Research Assistant for Çukurova University. She completed her MA program with the dissertation titled “Türkiye’de İslamcı Mizah Dergiciliği: Cafcaf Dergisi Örneği” (Islamic Cartoon Magazine Publishing in Turkey: The Case of the Magazine Cafcaf) in 2012, beginning her doctoral studies at the Faculty of Communication at Ankara University the same year. She was dismissed from public service on February 7, 2017 with the Decree Law no. 686. Currently she is a PHD student at the department of Communication Studies at Ankara University.
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- *We would like to thank E. İrem Akı for her contribution to this study.
We have conducted interviews, mostly through e-mail correspondence and some by face to face interviews, with a total of 11 individuals who have been working for, resigned, and laid off from different media outlets. We have not used our interviewees names for reasons of security and upon their consent, and classified different interviewees with numbers like (I1), (I2). We would like to thank them as well for answering our questions in all sincerity and contributing to this study in such a period. ↑
- https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/turkey Date of access: September 15, 2018. ↑
- https://www.cnnturk.com/dunya/dw/turkiye-basin-ozgurlugunde-geriledi-180-ulke-arasinda-157inci-sirada Date of access: September 10, 2018. ↑
- See Devlet Dersi: Çocuk Hak İhlallerinde Cezasızlık Öyküleri, Gökçer Tahincioğlu (2015) for a detailed analysis of the impact of “but”s in everyday life on the culture of impunity.paves theesf the fact that they are overtly prescribed as crimes in law ces and to respect the will of the people and law, and d ↑
- https://www.evrensel.net/haber/304088/kirkaya-kurt-basini-icin-her-gun-ohal Date of access: September 18, 2018 ↑
- http://gazetekarinca.com/2018/09/yarginin-kurt-basini-mesaisi-eylulde-84-gazeteci-yargilanacak/ Date of Access: September 3, 2018. ↑
- https://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/erdogan-dan-saadet-partisi-ne-kadere-bak-kimler-kimlerle-beraber-yan-yana-geliyor-153854.html Date of Access: September 5, 2018. ↑
- According to Bianet’s “Gezi” Diaries report, the police and civilians who were thought to be police battered at least 48 reporters from the press, including 4 foreign reporters, during the July-September 2013 period. They injured reporters with pepper spray and rubber bullets, prevented them from doing their jobs, deleted their photographs, swore at them and insulted them. They detained at least 11 reporters, including 2 from the international press. One TV series and one show that supported the Gezi Uprising were taken off the air, one cartoon exhibition was banned, and the actors of one TV series were replaced during a three-month period. At least 10 journalists resigned and 11 journalists were laid off because of the censoring, biased attitude of mass media. At least nine professional press organizations condemned the fact that the police targeted journalists during the Gezi Uprising along with censorship in the media. https://bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/150520-medyanin-gezi-guncesi ↑
- Since a comprehensive report was published on the same issue, we mentioned some points that we regarded to be necessary for this study instead of providing a detailed account. For detailed information on the issue see. Eres, B. and Yüksel, H. (2018). “The Changing Media Capital in the AKP Era”, https://halagazeteciyiz.net/2018/05/31/the-changing-media-capital-in-the-akp-era/ Date of Access: September 25, 2018. ↑
- To read Tanıl Bora’s piece on the issue published in Birikim see: http://www.birikimdergisi.com/haftalik/9087/kirilma#.W6YgCXszbIU Date of Access: September 13, 2018. ↑
- http://www.diken.com.tr/dogan-holding-resmen-duyurdu-dev-medya-grubu-916-milyon-dolara-demirorenin/ Date of Access: September 10, 2018. ↑
- http://www.diken.com.tr/cumhuriyette-yonetim-degisti-ilk-giden-yayin-yonetmeni-sabuncu/Date of Access: September 10, 2018. ↑
- http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2016/07/20160727M2..htm Date of Access: August 23, 2018. ↑
- http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2017/01/20170106M1-2.htm Date of Access: August 23, 2018. ↑
- https://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/ohal-de-medya-bilancosu-209-gazeteci-tutuklandi-3-bin-gazeteci-issiz-kaldi-224398.html Date of Access: August 23, 2018. ↑
- For the letter in which a disemployed journalist relates his/her experiences, see: https://www.evrensel.net/haber/315450/ne-oldu-sanki-oldu-mu Date of Access: August 20, 2018. ↑
- http://tutuklugazeteciler.blogspot.com/ Date of Access: September 28, 2018. ↑
- https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-40602395 Date of Access: August 21, 2018. ↑
- https://bianet.org/bianet/medya/199055-erdogan-yonetimi-ne-dosya-habere-ozgurluk Date of Access: August 18, 2018 . ↑
- http://www.gazetecilercemiyeti.org.tr/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/o%CC%88ib_temmuz_2018-raporu2.pdf page 5, Date of Access: September 14, 2018. ↑
- See https://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/cgd-sari-basin-karti-saray-basin-karti-olmustur-reddediyoruz-222661.html for the entirety of the press relelase. Date of Access: September 14, 2018. ↑
- http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/844843/2016_da_889_basin_karti_iptal_edildi.html ↑
- For a detailed analysis of this subject see: Keten, E. T. ve Aydın U. (2018). “Labor Regime and Unionization in the Media Industry”, June, https://halagazeteciyiz.net/2018/06/30/we-are-still-journalists-hala-gazeteciyiz-media-report-november-2017 / Date of Access: August 13, 2018. ↑
- https://www.ntv.com.tr/turkiye/batsin-senin-gazeteciligin,os4dF4we5EGGCvcdKVzzbw Date of Access: September 3, 2018. ↑