As the Changing Turkey team, we are delighted to publish the first Changing Turkey interview conducted by Mr. David Klein. Mr David Klein studies anthropology and journalism at Drexel University, and as a researcher on Turkey he will conduct interviews for the Changing Turkey readers. We extend our warm welcome to Mr David Klein, new Changing Turkey associate fellow.
ON MEDIA FREEDOM IN TURKEY
Dr. Erkan Saka is an assistant professor in the Communications department at Istanbul Bilgi University where he teaches courses about new media and cyber anthropology. He also heads the public relations and corporate communications MA program. He received a BA and MA in Sociology from Bogazici University, and his PhD in Anthropology from Rice University in Texas. He runs the blog Erkan’s field diary which focuses on Turkish media. He runs a TV show “Sosyal Kafa“ which examines social media and accordingto his blog, he is a self-described metalhead and a Beşiktaş JK supporter.
CT: Dr. Saka, to begin, could you tell us your perception on the current state of freedom of the press in Turkey?
Dr. Saka: I think, in general, Turkey never had a very good record on media freedom. There was some substantial improvement maybe a decade ago, in the early days of AKP, but it has since deteriorated. I mean, I am now 38 years old, I went through the period of the secularist coup d’état we had in the 1990s, I think the situation at the moment is even worse than those times. I think with the exception of certain opposition newspapers, most of mainstream media is under the direct control of the government.
CT: However according to certain statistics, while much of the mainstream media in Turkey is run by only a few large media conglomerates, 65 percent of them hold an oppositional editorial line towards the government.
Dr. Saka: [the government] recently lost the support of the Gulen movement newspapers as well as the Doğan media group (Doğan alone accounts for 40% of Turkish media). I think at the moment though, among the mainstream media, the Doğan-group newspapers have the most impact on public opinion. Gulen-movement newspapers, Zaman and such, have also done some very good journalism, but they are too integrated in the movement and have their own problems. They were also known for supporting pressure on journalists when they were aligned with the AKP government. The Doğan media group is still hesitant to be too oppositional because there is always the pressure of tax issues and such. Even to survive they have been forced to sacrifice some of their columnists. I think the issue boils down to this; AKP really doesn’t have enough manpower to use the media institutions they have as propaganda tools, yes they use them but it is very poorly done. I think most of the well-qualified media employees who had supported the AKP before belonged to the Gulen movement and now they have retreated; so, we see more and more amateurish mistakes in AKP media. Right now it is incredibly difficult to find a job in mass media here in Turkey because you have to be very partisan. In theory I agree with your implication, but I still think there is a lot of pressure from the government on mass media.
CT: What do you think is the future of Turkish media? What will we be seeing five or ten years from now? What do you think will change?
Dr. Saka: It depends on what happens with the business models, but probably, a lot of journalists and reporters who are not feeling so free in their current jobs, especially the columnists who may get fired, will switch to new media. But, of course, you need an income, so we will have to see what happens with the business models for these things in the coming years. What I am more excited about is that ordinary citizens can be producing this kind of stuff. Of course there will always be hierarchies, we all learn how to produce better work and there will always be levels of expertise. But it is surprising that we use new media so much to get our news. I think there is a high level of media literacy in the new media here and I am hoping that we will begin to see many battles [for readers with old media] coming from new media in the next five years.
CT: Could you finally tell us about a few rising stars who are leading the new media charge here in Turkey?
Dr. Saka: There is no one central figure, it is kind of always changing, though I think this is a good thing. There are some groups I could name, several citizen journalist collectives, such as @140Journos, and @dokuz8haber [ all on twitter], mobile photography collectives like Agence Le Journal, a few sites that are working on verifications issues, and some news sites like Vagus TV and T24 that were important during the Gezi Park resistance, but are now closing due to financial issues. As I said, it is very decentralized, one stops and another starts but it is always moving. I think it is particularly in times of emergency when all sorts of new media emerge. During Gezi Park, there were micro blogs which were very specific: one which just documented police violence, and another that highlighted the architecture of police barricades. There are so many niche blogs that emerge in these emergencies. There is a new media ecology forming, which is fluid, with viewers flowing from one source to another for different pieces of information, rather than getting it all from one source. Thus most of these people are unknown, and it is all done in a sort of crowd-funded way with everyone contributing their part, but you can pick out some opinion makers and quality journalists in the mix.