Witnessing the Turkish Media’s Fall from Grace

My memory fails me when I try to remember all the negative reports and headlines regarding Turkey’s leading AK Party, Prime Minister Erdogan or the center-right in Turkey in the last years.  Some said Turkey will never normalize relations with Israel again, while some claimed Erdogan would surely be toppled by the military after the Gezi protests; some were over-enthusiastic about allegations of corruption, and some even claimed the government would be brought down after being vexed with Gulen supporters.  Oddly enough, few still remember why the AKP came to power and that would be the very reason to bring it back down: the socio-ideological change in Turkey.

Although the steady rise of the ‘right wing’ in the Turkish political scene was as clear as broad daylight, and that it was made even more obvious with the increasing share of votes and emerging sociological factors, some media organs deliberately chose to ignore this trend with a strong attitude of denial that stretched over the last decade.  Just like Edward Smith, who it is said instructed the musicians to play louder as the Titanic was going down, some circles in the Turkish elite media have isolated themselves from the public; they were satisfied in their own world of ultra-secular left wing ideals and kept dreaming of the days when the AKP would come tumbling down.  We saw these circles thrive on, and often take an indecent pleasure in, events that dismay the public.

I will not claim that this certain part of the secular media, who at the time kept screaming that ‘center -right’ was coming down in Turkey, were lying.  They just loved the idea of mainstream right collapsing and wanted to believe in the utopia that they created.  Even if it lasted for only a short time, these media elites couldn’t let go of this dream.  The ultra -secular Turkish media, which in the past had close relations to the military and the politicians, and had enough power to topple governments or assign new ones, couldn’t work out why they no longer were able to have that sort of influence on the people.

Surely journalists and analysts are also human and they have their own ideas, ideologies and set of beliefs.  But as a part of their profession, they need to preserve their objectivity and unbiased attitude at all times.  Journalists or pundits alike, if their aim is to ‘serve’ the public, cannot assume that everything has two sides and that it is their duty to be on one or the other.  When they fail to do that they simply become politicians minus the burden of statesmanship.  This is usually the sort of power people enjoy having – power without responsibility – and once they get a taste of it, few want to let go.  When journalists are in this situation, they stop trying to make sense of developments and society.  Then they ultimately find themselves in a profession that is emptied of its meaning, surrounded by their blind supporters, isolated from the rest of the population.

Losing Effect amid Political Mess

Following these steps, it follows journalists’ becoming abstract in the eyes of the public, and then they lose their significance and their power of influence.  This is exactly what happened to certain media circles in Turkey.  A powerful anti-Marxist, anti-materialist, and anti-fundamentalist civil education, mostly driven by Adnan Oktar, drove society further from left and closer to center right, resulting in the opposition to be weak and highly fragmented and accounting for the electoral success of the center right.  Turkish people of today seek a political environment where politics serve society as a sociological tool rather than making society the prisoner of politics.  An environment which is shaped by morals to best serve the needs of people, one that is not cold and distant from them, represented by individuals who can laugh, pray, eat, be offended just like them.

These newly flourishing right-wing supporters are more prone to finding their voice within the framework of the AKP.  Unlike the European or the American left, in Turkey, liberal elements such as anti-racism, anti-tribalism, anti-sexism are found within the program of center- right.  While today’s center-left Turkish discourse makes much of women’s empowerment, the historical context of left-wing rule in Turkey provided the least freedoms to women even in the field of clothing, under the pretext of secularism.  With the latest opening among the Turkish youth, the people in general have proven themselves to be the guardian of equal rights for all, sometimes despite their political inclination.  For instance, lifting the hijab ban was supported by many ultra-secularist feminists because limiting women’s freedom of clothing was simply upsetting, even to those who fiercely opposed the hijab.  One other factor for the rise of the right-wing base is the industrial and economic transformation of Turkey through new trade routes into Muslim countries; this has allowed the more traditional Muslim businessmen to rise to the occasion, strengthening their positions in the public as a result.  This consequently made its sub-units and sub-contractors support the system for the sake of preserving their newly obtained wealth.

Every action has a result, a reaction.  The self-deceptions of this ultra secular media elite would not be important if the international policy makers or various think tanks would not rely on their assessments.  The political actions of these circles and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making and the important issues fail to be addressed.  The world has been suffering from partisanship, which caused a great deal of polarization.  While there is a steady center-right in Turkey, trying to continue the attempts to ignore this fact and divide people is an invitation to social disaster, an appalling circle of destruction, in which we will have no winners.


Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 31, 2014, on Ceylan Özbudak, website featuring writing and commentary by Turkish journalist and author, Ceylan Özbudak.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Ms. Özbudak.

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