February 14, 2021
This article was first published on Modern Diplomacy.
The media-politics relationship in Turkey has been one of the most important factors shaping the quality of democracy.
Media is seen as the “fourth estate” in modern democracies. It acts as a “watchdog” for state affairs. The media coverage of issues is very important in agenda setting. Media freedom is essential to a working democracy as agenda-setting is one of the significant roles of media. There is a constant relationship between the ruling elites and those governed in democratic countries.
Journalism serves various functions such as giving information, making investigation, providing society a public forum, and a basis for democratic education. According to Marxist thinker Louis Althusser media is one of the ideological state apparatuses through which elites exercise authority in a more efficient way.
During the time of War of Independence, the press had played a major role. In this process, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk paved the way for the publication of “National Will” (İrade-i Milliye). This journal published in 1919 aimed to make the decisions taken in Sivas Congress gain a widespread audience. Moreover, the journal called “New Day” (Yeni Gün) which was published by Yunus Nadi was one of the most important publications that supported the War of Independence ideals.
Since the establishment of Turkish Republic, media and politics relationship has not been of nature that is required in a liberal democracy. In the early years of the Republic the press was used as a tool for Kemalist nation-building project to establish national identity and solidarity.
In the article titled “Instrumentalist Use of Journalism in Imposing the Kemalist Hegemonic Worldview and Educating the Masses in the Early Republican Period” me and İ. Yılmaz wrote the following:
“The mass communication as well as press and publishing have a firm relationship with modernization and Westernization project in Turkey. Publishing, above all, is one of the reform movements following the West; it is known that, publishing has been employed in order to motivate other reforms. However, what is more important is that, while the Republican elites were trying to carry out the social-engineering projects through revolutions in the early years of modernization, they did not just enact laws, but also used mass communication instruments as an efficient tool to make the modernization project get a wide support among the masses.”
In the multi-party years, Turkish media scene was diversified however after the mid-1950s the growing censorship activities undermined media freedom. On the other hand it is also known that the negative portrayal of Democrat Party before the military coup in 1960 had played a role in the loss of the government’s legitimacy.
In the post-1980 period, a considerable degree of liberalization was witnessed under Özal rule. The neo-liberal economic policies paved the way for the private media outlets to emerge. The 1990s saw the establishment of private-owned media outlets. In terms of media landscape, it can be said that, Turkey’s broadcast media organs have a very high penetration as satellite dishes and cable systems are widely available. According to the Media Ownership Monitor report, around 71% of the Turkish media outlets belong to four big companies close to the government: Turkuvaz/ Kalyon, Demirören, Doğuş, and Ciner. Thus it can be said that In Turkey, media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few large private media groups.
With regards to media freedom, Turkish media scene is not free and there is a heavy state control and pressure upon media outlets and journalists. The Radio and Television High Council (RTUK) is responsible for regulating media scene however RTUK is not a successful institution in ensuring media freedom. Most of the time it works as a tool of government to punish the opposing and critical media actors.
The online media scene in Turkey can be seen as one of the sole resources for reaching the news critical of the government. According to the Digital News Report, known as “Turkey Supplementary Report” published by Reuters Institute in 2018, the main source of news varies strikingly by political orientation. Online media (45%) is the primary source for left-wing audience whereas for those on the right it is TV (59%).
To put it in a nutshell, in Turkey, free and independent media does not exist and the institutions established to ensure this freedom serve the interests of the ruling elites. The Free Turkey Journalists Platform notes that since 2016, 170 media outlets have been closed. In Turkey, censorship and self-censorship are routine practices. There is a growing interdependence between media outlets, business circles and political actors. This interdependency undermines media freedom and pluralism.
In my next article as the final of the pieces of Turkish politics series, I will try to address the civil society factor in shaping Turkish political structure and democratic politics.
Yılmaz İ and Burak B. 2011, Instrumentalist Use of Journalism in Imposing the Kemalist Hegemonic Worldview and Educating the Masses in the Early Republican Period Instrumentalist Use of Journalism in Imposing the Kemalist Hegemonic Worldview and Educating the Masses in the Early Republican Period (13.02.2021)
Media Ownership Monitor- Turkey Media Ownership Monitor (13.02.2021)
The Free Turkey Journalists Platform The Free Turkey Journalists Platform (13.02.2021)
Yanatma S, Digital News Report 2018 – Turkey Supplementary Report, Reuters Institute Digital News Report (13.02.2021)
Author : Begum Burak