Gezi Park Resistance Article Series – No. 3
From the Mainstream Media to the Alternative Media: Media in Turkey and Taksim Gezi Park Protests
The wide spectrum protests in Turkey started with the Taksim Gezi Park protests and its spill over to all over Turkey demonstrated the limited independence of Turkish media. All started with the protests by few environmentalists for preserving the Taksim Gezi Park from the authorities, who decided to reconstruct Taksim military barracks that would include a shopping mall inside the new building, on May 27, 2013.
The protests widened its influence, attracted more support and spread all over Turkey due to primarily the attack by the police with tear gas and water cannons to the peaceful protestors at Gezi Park. The violent intervention of the police continued in the following days in many cities of Turkey (e.g., Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Hatay and Dersim) and the number of protestors grew day to day. In the meantime, the media in Turkey was censored; Turkish media did not cover the protests adequately and in most cases not at all; the Internet connection was blocked by the authorities using electronic devices (i.e., jammers) in areas the protests were held. In short, the mainstream communication channels were more or less frozen in Turkey and alternative media (i.e., non-mainstream and new or social media) took over to cover the on-going protests. Such a dramatic demonstration of the limited independence and impartiality of Turkish media and the increasing role of alternative media in the country is invaluable for understanding the contemporary Turkish media.
The media in Turkey was historically weak due to the pressures upon the freedom of press and strongly built inter-relationships between state and media owners (Kaya and Çakmur 2010: 523-524). Although a transformation of the poor media environment to a richer media landscape (i.e., expanding infrastructure and increasing media outlets and products) emerged in the 1990s, media holdings (e.g., Doğan Holding owning several dailies and TV stations) monopolized the landscape, which has persisted until today (Elmas and Kurban 2011: 23; Kaya and Çakmur 2010: 525). Moreover, the media, which was controlled by the state, became a tool of manipulation for these capital groups to gain political and economic benefits in their relationships with Turkish governments by the late 1990s (Elmas and Kurban 2011: 24).
Nowadays, Turkish media is characterized by one mainstream media, primarily belonging to big media holdings concentrating on increasing profits, and alternative media, such as the newspapers Taraf, Agos or Bianet dependent on limited financial means and operating in a repressive legal and political order, and also new social media, such as Facebook or Twitter (Kaya and Çakmur 2010: 533; Elmas and Kurban 2011: 9).
The mainstream media continues to be instrumentalized by the state and it is politically vulnerable to pressures from the authorities (Çarkoğlu and Yavuz 2010: 618; Elmas and Kurban 2011: 9, 61). Most importantly, economic interests of big media enterprises push them to develop clientelistic relations both with the government and other political actors (Somer 2010: 560). As Çarkoğlu and Yavuz (2010: 618) emphasize, “while private media owners ‘have connections to obtain government contracts and concessions’, ‘politicians can pressure media owners by selectively enforcing broadcasting, tax, and other laws’ in that kind of relationship.”
The dispute between Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Doğan media group in 2008 illustrates this type of clientelistic relationship. An open conflict between the Doğan group and Erdoğan emerged when the AKP-led municipality refused to grant a property demanded by Doğan holdings (Kaya and Çakmur 2010: 532). In response, the Doğan media group began to voice criticisms of the AKP government (Kaya and Çakmur 2010: 532). After Erdoğan publicly instructed the authorities to fine the Doğan media group for alleged tax irregularities, a fine of 3.75 billion Turkish Lira was issued in 2009 (Çarkoğlu and Yavuz 2010: 618; The Economist 2009).
Considering the clientelistic relationship between the media holdings and the state authorities, the censorship imposed to media enterprises in the case of Gezi Park protests has not been a surprise. What is important is the undeniable revelation of this censorship during Gezi Park protests. After the censorship in Gezi Park protests, some groups in the social media have been organizing protests against the mainstream media (e.g., the protests on June 3, 2013 in front of the Doğuș Power Center and the NTV news channel that belongs to the Doğuș holding) and they have been trying to raise awareness among the public on the clientelistic relations between these media channels of these big holdings and the state (Bianet 2013). The protestors’ main slogan in the June 3rd protest was “We do not want purchased media” (Bianet 2013). Moreover, these groups called people from the new media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Eksisozluk, for a boycott of these holdings’ other brands, such as Garanti Bank of Doğuș holdings (Ekșisözlük 2013; Ereğli Güncel Haber 2013). The boycott call states: “They have become rich with our money. But they ignored our resistance. In response, we boycott not only their media channels but also their whole brands. Our first target is Doğuș Holding” (Medyalens 2013).
Such an active use of social media as the alternative means of communication and organization demonstrates that Turkey also had its share on growing role of alternative media worldwide in the recent years. This development has consequently enriched the media landscape in Turkey by enabling the public to receive critical news that challenges state interests and policies (Elmas and Kurban 2011: 61).
In addition to the social media, non-mainstream media has been active in reporting the protests. For instance, Agos, bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper, reported the protests minute by minute (Agos 2013). Moreover, Halk TV, pro-Kemalist TV channel independent from the government, broadcasted the protests live. The increasing role of alternative media in Turkey was also demonstrated in other cases in the last decade. For instance, the newspaper Taraf representing non-mainstream press dominated Turkey’s political agenda through publishing confidential documents leaked by personnel within the military, which revealed a number of failed coup attempts by senior officers within the Turkish Armed Forces (Elmas and Kurban 2011: 35; The Economist 2008). Another instance is the role of the Twitter on revealing torture and sexual violence against juveniles, who has Kurdish origins, in the Pozantı Prison, Adana (Armenian Weekly 2012; Temelkuran 2012). While the mainstream media was silent on the issue, Twitter users launched a campaign to raise awareness on the issue (Temelkuran 2012). As a result of this campaign, the Pozantı scandal found a place on the public discussions and authorities took action. As was in the case of Pozantı scandal the revelation of censorship in the case of Gezi Park protests through the alternative media increased awareness in the domestic and international arena and put pressure on the mainstream media. As a result, the mainstream media started to cover protests. Even more Cem Aydın, the executive director of the Doğuș Media (the owner of the NTV news channel) apologized from the NTV reporters and also the public for not covering the protests (BBC 2013). Aydın stated that “Criticism of the channel was fair to a large extent” and added that “Our audience feels like they were betrayed” (BBC 2013).
To conclude, it was widely known both domestically and internationally and also stressed by reports of many international organizations that the independence, impartiality, and quality of Turkish media have been limited (Çarkoğlu and Yavuz 2010: 618; Freedom House 2005, 2007, 2009). What is striking is that the obvious demonstration of this by the Taksim Gezi Park protests domestically and internationally; the replacement of mainstream media in repressive orders with alternative or non-mainstream media; and the increasing role of new media worldwide, including Turkey.
Dr. Gözde Yılmaz, Post-doctoral Researcher, Middle East Technical University
Please cite this publication as follows:
Yılmaz, Gözde (June, 2013), “From the Mainstream Media to the Alternative Media: Media in Turkey and Taksim Gezi Park Protests”, Vol. II, Issue 4, pp.17-19, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=3381)
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