As ‘Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey’ we have conducted our first interview with a doyen journalist, former lead-columnist of daily ‘Hürriyet’ and The Grand National Assembly of Turkey’s Member of Parliament (MP) from Republican People’s Party (CHP) representing city of Istanbul, Mr. Oktay Ekşi. As our platform aims to spread the truth and the facts of Turkey as much as it can, while opening them to free discussion in their most plain and true state, conducting our first interview with such an experienced member of Turkish media, has two special meanings for us. Since the quickest and most effective method of reflecting the facts from Turkey, either truthfully or in deceitful ways, is the written and visual media; such institutions constitute the elements that we both criticise the most and at the same time cannot live without taking a look at. First, most people have a tendency to extract both heroes and enemies for themselves out of the visual and written media institutions. Mr. Oktay Ekşi is a person who had got involved at every level of journalism, taken part as the lead columnist of Turkey’s most popular daily newspaper for many years, been the president of  ‘Council of Press’ since its foundation until 2011 and been both criticised and praised for his writings and declarations. As a person who has followed the flow of major events in Turkey closely and authored many articles with regard to them, we place a particular importance to discussing and questioning the media and politics with him. Second, as he is the eldest of MPs at The Grand National Assembly of Turkey and is actively trying to steer the policies of Turkey in the meantime, we consider that providing a picture of political and social phenomena in Turkey through his point of view as very significant.

As a platform founded in London and aiming to explain Turkey to people outside of Turkey as well as inside with all of its various aspects, we directed questions regarding a wide range of subjects from policies of Turkish governments regarding citizens living abroad to media-government relationships and CHP. He responded our questions in a very sincere manner. We would like to thank to Mr. Ekşi for providing answers for all questions that we asked in an objective manner and with a tone that might even be considered as adversarial.

As a response to our question, regarding the Turkish citizens who immigrated into Europe, Mr. Ekşi stated that such waves of migration were welcomed by the Turkish governments that failed to provide sufficient jobs and welfare for their citizens. He mentioned that the governments did not pay attention to these citizens apart from paying attention only to the amount of foreign currency sent back by them.

Saying that ‘Turkish media has a professional deficiency of writing the facts incompletely’ Mr. Ekşi continued with pointing out that there is ‘no person or institution that does not feel under government pressure’ in Turkey recently.

Emphasizing that the ‘Ergenekon’ case is full of violations of the rule of law and unfair treatments, Mr. Ekşi claimed that it is a shame to have MPs, many journalists and academics in prison for which the current government is responsible. Mr. Ekşi, to whom we asked questions about CHP’s inner conflicts and differences between ‘New’ and ‘Old’ CHPs, underlined that ‘CHP is a very solid and multifocal party’ and discussing concepts like old and new CHP does not make any sense to him.

You can read the full interview below unchanged and uncensored:

Short Summary

Every person and institution feels under government pressure in Turkey.

The waves of migration to European countries were welcomed by the Turkish governments that failed to provide sufficient jobs and welfare to their citizens.

Turkish media has a professional deficiency of writing the facts incompletely.

Some generals of the Turkish General Staff deceived the media with regard to the probable supporters of the terrorist organization PKK at the end of 1990s.

The AKP government’s initial reformist image was a self-defensive deception to the West in order to hide its essential programme.

The ‘Ergenekon’ and the ‘KCK’ cases are full of violations and unfair treatments. The shame of putting the MPs, numerous journalists and academics into prison belongs to the AKP government.

There is no ‘New CHP’. The CHP has always been a very solid and multifocal party.

No journalist or newspaper may write against the interests of its boss’ business interests.

ResearchTurkey:  We have come to know that you have been in London between 1962 -1966 with the secretarial role at the Turkish Consulate. Since then, have you been able to find the chance to follow London and UK closely? When you look at today’s London and UK, what are the major differences you can spot from 1960s?

Oktay Ekşi: I have not been in London to record observations that would be listed as answers to your question. I stayed inside the frame of an ordinary individual’s realities. Later I have been in London for touristic purposes. Therefore, instead of talking about immaterial points I would prefer not answering this question.

ResearchTurkey: Especially after 1960s many immigrants moved into Europe from Turkey. Those migration movements continued in an accelerated fashion afterwards in certain periods. During the time you were in UK, was migration into UK from Turkey at considerable levels? Did Turkey have a migration policy in place? Why do you think these citizens chose migrating Europe? Do you believe that past/present Turkish governments did all that they could for such migrating citizens’ welfare?

Oktay Ekşi: I went to London in October 1962. Before 1961, UK was not a country that Turkish people came to work or settle in. The first destination of Turkish people who are after setting up a business and in pursuit of a new life was Germany and after that Austria. In the following period mainly France, Belgium and Netherlands joined these. Actually UK was not after “foreign” labour force either. Conversely in the UK, anyone caught working without a work permit from the Home Office would be deported. Moreover, the passports used to be sealed as “Not permitted to work” at the entrance into the country. Therefore, it was impossible to talk about a migration policy of Turkey’s targeting UK. It was said that there are Cypriot Turkish people who reside in North London’s relatively poor suburbs.     

Our citizens who moved into continental Europe were in pursuit of higher life standards – this was a common reality. Turkish governments who failed to provide sufficient job opportunities and life standards were content with this pursuit of theirs. Because each citizen that moved out of Turkey contributed to the lightening of the burden on government. To put it shortly, the government’s policy was focused on “getting rid” of its citizens. Hence, the governments did not display any interest in citizens that moved. The mere interest that was shown was not on how to respond to their needs but rather on how much they could be helpful for closing the currency deficit by transferring their income back to their families in Turkey.

The first initiative regarding this was taken – if I remember correctly – by the first post 12th of March 1971 government of Nihat Erim’s Minister of Work Atilla Sav. Some significant analyses were conducted and policies were produced. However they could not be brought into life in a short period. After 1973 elections the government of CHP-MSP coalition was formed and Ministry of Work was dedicated to MSP according to the agreement. The minister Ahmet Paksu dealt with the issue only through a certain perspective of setting up a “National View” organisation in Europe and worked towards such an end.

Actually the European governments, who were well aware that we did not show any concern for our citizens, did not display any interest either until the time it is seen that this constituted a major problem for their own goodness.

ResearchTurkey: You have had many controversial columns that attracted positive and negative responses from the public. One of these was titled ‘We shall get to know the traitors”, dated 25th of April 1998. You had brought into public attention that there might be foreign governments in Europe as well as Turkish businessmen who support terrorism. What kind of developments, to your knowledge, occurred in this realm since then?

Oktay Ekşi: First of all, I have never had such a claim. In my column, there is not even a single word that would imply such a claim of mine. That article was about one of the prominent figures of PKK, Şemdin Sakık’s words in his first interrogation after being caught in Northern Iraq. The news about such claims of his (the actual names were never known) was widespread and as a journalist it was my duty to ask the actual names for public knowledge. Therefore I authored that article asking “the actual names” of these people who were claimed to help terrorism against Turkey.

However after this article’s publication it was heard that Chief of Staff of the Military pressured the bosses of major newspapers like Hürriyet and Sabah for letting go five or six journalists whose names were supposedly mentioned by Sakık including Mehmet Ali Birand, Cengiz Çandar and Yavuz Gökmen. However it was also heard that Aydın Doğan resisted these pressures while Dinç Bilgin (‘Sabah’ newspaper’s boss) succumbed to these pressures.

The case became clear only after Şemdin Sakık said “I haven’t mentioned anybody supported PKK. There is nothing about that in my statement. Somebody has informed the media as ‘I had mentioned these in the trial’”.  After Sakık’s declaration, whenever this case came onto agenda, I stated that somebody from the Chief of Staff (the actual suspects seemed like the Generals Çevik Bir and Erol Özkasnak) deceived us and the whole media, therefore an apology had been required to our friends who were affected by this.

However, the Turkish media has a professional deficiency of writing the facts incompletely. Therefore, it is really difficult to find pieces that reflect the whole picture completely. Even if you try to correct the issue later, you would hardly find someone to listen to you. Likewise, Hasan Cemal wrote only half of this story in his book “The Kurds”. I asked him to correct this in the second print of the book but he did not. Hence I decided to end my acquaintance with him.

This would be all about your question.

ResearchTurkey: Especially after 1999, many significant institutional reforms have taken place in Turkey. Moreover especially after 2002, it is being said that there is constant, stable development and a renovation process is going on. How do you see this era, what has changed in Turkey?

Oktay Ekşi: It is true that since 2002 – AKP’s rise to power – quite fast and radical reforms were undertaken. However these were not due to AKP’s truly “reformist” and “democratic” character but rather, as later to be seen, were done in order to change the general attitude in public and the Western world against them like ‘They are against democracy, they do not even know what democracy is and they are against the western world’ and gain the support of the West. Since they won the two elections later with greater public support and there was no more need to seem amiable to anyone, they started to apply their real agenda on Turkey.

ResearchTurkey: As someone who dedicated his years for journalism, how do you think the freedom of media and ethics changed in the most recent era? How would you consider today’s media-government relationship?

Oktay Ekşi: I do not think there is any person or institution that does not feel under pressure in Turkey, especially the media institutions.  As the realities are so clear, I do not see any point in talking about them more in detail

ResearchTurkey: What do you think about the critics from media circles claiming that you could not display sufficient effort and willingness in protecting journalists’ rights as the president of ‘Council of Press’?

Oktay Ekşi: If there is anyone who claims as such he should be either someone who doesn’t know the purpose of the Council of Press or what we have done since 1988 (the Foundation of the Council) until January 2011 (when I quit this role).

As Council of Press, we stood by all journalists who faced obstruction or offence of any kind as soon as we knew about the nature of the cases. We have used protesting messages, press releases and even sometimes personal influence to support the journalist or newspaper in question (Details of our actions could be found in our annual reports). However when people confused our council with a syndicate or communion of journalists and sought awards or “social protection”, we tried to explain them our real purposes.

ResearchTurkey: How would you view the response to your question towards the government regarding Kemal Öztürk’s appointment to Anadolu News Agency’s Presidency? The fact that the question was answered by Kemal Öztürk himself but not the government was thought to be inappropriate.

Oktay Ekşi: I have actually asked the question to the Prime Minister. However I got an answer signed by the Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. When I checked it out, I found out that actually Mr. Arınç forwarded me a letter signed by Kemal Öztürk himself saying that “All upheld rights of mine were returned to me by the court so there is no obstacle for my presidency”.

What can I say to a deputy PM that has such work ethics – even considering that he is a Law specialist? I felt sorry for our country, which is all. My addressee is not the AA President, why should I say anything to him.

ResearchTurkey: As a Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP you follow “The Ergenekon” trials closely. Two of your party’s MPs are imprisoned and are being on trial, too. As the governing party AKP claims that this case is an important step in Turkey’s democratisation, CHP says there have been many legally improper acts and unfairness conducted during this case. Especially can you talk about your observations from the trials you have been to? As a whole how would you consider this case?

Oktay Ekşi: CHP’s view is just as what you have just said and I agree with that. The shame of having two colleagues of us – and many journalists – in prison by violating all legal principles belongs to the people who govern this country.

ResearchTurkey: As part of ‘Ergenekon’ and ‘KCK’ cases numerous journalists and academicians were arrested. Against these arrests there have been many objections both in domestic and foreign media. Even public protests were organised. As the trials are going on, some people claim that “journalism as a whole is being tried and silenced” others including the EU Minister of Turkey state that “Those people are not tried because they are journalists but they are tried because they are terrorists”.  The polarisation of public opinion is also rising. How would you comment on all of these? How should the “plain” freedom of press be understood?

Oktay Ekşi: I, myself, believe that despite carrying the title of “journalist” there are people who were arrested due to actions that are not connected or relevant to journalism too. However this does not alleviate the worrying nature of the issue. The people who claim that “They are arrested due to non-journalism actions” (Especially the Minister of Justice, Minister of EU and Deputy PM) are not talking honestly. Is it possible to explain the fact that a journalist (Ahmet Şık) being imprisoned for almost a year because of a draft book that was still on his PC? Is not this mere example enough to show that current government is dishonest or does not believe in rule of law or principles of fair trial?

I personally think that “freedom of press” is a concept that does not fully explain the purpose of the term. I think “freedom of communication” should be used instead but the reasons and principles behind these require a lengthy explanation.

ResearchTurkey:  Is it true to say that all problems concerning the freedom of media stems from political reasons? Do you think that media groups’ “non-media” businesses might also be effective in these kind of issues?

Oktay Ekşi: It is desirable for media groups to not to be involved in non-media businesses. However finding such an occurrence in real life is very difficult. I believe that having such a regulation to ban or limit media groups from conducting non-media business is also not true. Following this, naturally, it is not possible for a journalist who works for such media groups to publish in contrast to the group’s non-media interests.

This is an obvious element that limits journalists’ freedom of publication. However the solution to this problem is to provide a multifocal and pluralist press environment. In such an environment, the varying interests of many media groups should be clashing so that there would be a multi-perspective range of views and media groups’ approaches like ‘write for my interests or else I might fire you’ could be curbed with the existence of alternatives to create a more ‘free’ media structure.

ResearchTurkey: Regarding the discussions about MPs’ salary and pensions, it is seen that there are many opposing views inside CHP too. Especially, the announcement stating that there will be “disciplinary investigation” about the members who support government’s regulation exposed this. Finally CHP voted “red” on the new modifications after President’s veto of the proposal. What do you think about this issue? Do you agree with your colleague Ahmet Toptaş who says that MPs need such special regulations for themselves to not to put other professions of theirs before being an MP?

Oktay Ekşi: Not because I am an MP now, but also during my lengthy career as a columnists of which 36 years have been in daily Hürriyet, I had always defended the view that “If you give someone the authority and responsibility of representing the nation as a whole, it is a duty of the state to provide the conditions and standards that he deserves not only when that person is an MP but also afterwards”. I have authored many articles stating this and my view is still unchanged.

ResearchTurkey: On one hand it is claimed that a multifocal structure is presiding in CHP’s decision mechanisms on the other hand there are groups of people that have such different views to make it very difficult for them to come and work together. Therefore, it is stated that CHP cannot produce a single/strong voice for coherent policy analysis and recommendations? Do these claims have sense of truth in them? As someone from inside the party how do you see CHP?

Oktay Ekşi: CHP is a very solid and multifocal party. I prefer seeing these as signs for the healthy future of the party.

ResearchTurkey: Just before the elections that you were to become an MP, CHP has come up with a motto of “New CHP”.  How would you comment on this “New CHP” identity? What did previous CHP represent and how does new CHP differ from it? How effective was this motto in the process of your nomination?

Oktay Ekşi: According to me; there is no significance of CHP being connoted as “New CHP” or counter wise. Such kinds of mottos were produced before with Ismail Cem’s policy proposals and by Deniz Baykal himself as well. However as unnecessary these may be also they could not change CHP’s real identity. Therefore they haven’t been effective at all in any of my decisions or my perspective towards CHP.

ResearchTurkey: What do you think about Bülent Arınç’s latest comment on parties’ current vote percentages based on public surveys, ridiculing other (than AKP) parties’ situation?

Oktay Ekşi: I haven’t read or heard that comment. However nothing would have changed even if I had. I do not think there is anything to take seriously in what he says or about his manners.

ResearchTurkey: In Turkey voters seem to be solidly divided between only AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP and it is claimed that other parties and initiatives would not be able to join these in short and medium run. Contrary to pre-2002 scene, the voters are grouped in one strong party for every strong ideology without an alternative. How do you see this picture? Can this political climate be the future of Turkey and lead Turkey into a two party political scene which is ideal for presidency system?

Oktay Ekşi: This is a situation that we can see in many countries (including UK) and quite frequently. However, the situation changes in Turkey much faster than in other countries. (CHP-DP era, CHP-AP era, SHP-DYP-ANAP era, DYP-RP-ANAP era, AKP-CHP eras are examples). One day this state of balance is going to change too. Does this lead to Presidency system? That is very hard to predict today.

ResearchTurkey: Finally, as an NGO, we would like to ask about the perception of NGOs and their effect on democratisation. How do you see the civil society awareness level and NGOs’ effectiveness in Turkey, do you find it sufficient? What should the government and other political parties do about this issue?

Oktay Ekşi: No, I do not find it sufficient. To make matters worse, like every other group and individuals, NGOs too were affected by the current atmosphere of fear (fear of telephone hacking, unsigned letters of report to the police, it would take years to prove my innocence once I am arrested, not trusting the judiciary because they are under influence of the government, fear of “Gülen movement” blaming people with unjustified accusations and fake documents etc.) and could not make their voice heard anymore. I do not expect any positive moves about this from this government because this situation is indeed created by them. The opposition can only speak as much as they do today.

ResearchTurkey:  We would like to thank you very much for your time and providing detailed answers to our questions. We wish you success in your future encounters and career.

Please cite this article as follows:

ResearchTurkey (March, 2012), “Interview with Mr. Oktay Ekşi: “There is no person or institution not feeling under government pressure in Turkey”, Vol. I, Issue 1,  pp.21-29,  Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/dev/p=206)


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