Friday, October 14, 2011

Turkish versions of Murdoch

The phone-hacking scandal that is developing further even after the closure of News of the World (NoW) shatters the very foundations of Britain's great institutions; there will be more secrets and dirt unveiled, leading to a tough test for one of the world's oldest democracies. The NoW scandal has many facets, each of which requires careful attention. But one of them should interest us, I believe, simply because it highlights the maladies of media-state relations, a core element for durability of, and public confidence in democracy. It is a vital issue as valid in Britain as in Turkey, Brazil, South Africa or elsewhere. The key question is whether there is a place for corrupt media companies and their corrupt proprietors in already established or emerging democracies. In this sense, we must see the entire phone-hacking scandal in light of the man who ruled the Murdoch empire and the culture it has spread in the many countries it has been operational in. “A generation of people in British public life -- including politicians, police officers and, yes, journalists -- have lived with the increasing power of one person, Rupert Murdoch. He was a bad man to upset, and so most people kept their heads below anything that looked like a parapet. Politicians, in particular, paid court to him and to his lieutenants. They felt they needed Rupert Murdoch's support in order to win power, or stay in power. This suited Mr. Murdoch very well: He had things he needed from them, too. These individual relationships weren't in themselves corrupt, nor is Mr. Murdoch the purely malign caricature of some imaginations. But the effect of this power was indeed corrupting,” wrote the Guardian, which stood for all the good in journalism in revealing the phone-hacking scandal with persistent courage. “Over 40 years, Murdoch convinced the establishment that he can make or break political reputations and grant or take away electoral success. In doing so, he has come close to gelding parliament, damaging the rights of citizens and undermining democracy” argued the Observer weekly. “Prime ministers have danced fast and furiously to Murdoch's tune.” When we now realize how much even a well-established, mainly trustworthy and tradition-driven British media outlet can be damaged by a single proprietor's asserted “culture of dirt,” we can only imagine the levels of damage that multiple media proprietors in Turkey have inflicted on democratization efforts over the years. When discussing the fundamental issues related to the media and its freedom, in my earlier articles I revisited two basic questions: “Is it possible to support a democratization with a media that has refused to free itself from economic and cultural corruption?” And, “If a media proprietor is involved in criminal activities, could impunity be demanded through alarming calls that ‘media freedom is in danger”? This is what happened in Turkey with several media groups in the past two decades and the corrupting power that was exercised by Turkish media moguls continue to have an influence in some of them, resulting in their resistance to radical change. The answer to those questions is no. There is a widespread perception abroad that the Turkish government is responsible for everything that goes wrong with respect to press freedom matters. While it is true that it is responsible for not amending certain legislations to enhance freedom of expression, the issue of corruption that still remains to be investigated in financial matters, and the “culture of journalism” it has created, is the responsibility of media owners and the manager structures they have chosen. A recent case here concerns NTV, an influential news channel owned by Doğuş Group, which has come under scrutiny for discontinuing some programs and firing a host, Banu Güven, after 14 years. Yesterday, Güven told Taraf and Akşam dailies that she was “vetoed” from interviewing Leyla Zana, a well-known Kurdish political figure and a BDP deputy, before the elections. “How is it that a channel, which fought for and gained trust, comes to this point? Those who demand, warn, threaten -- directly or indirectly -- and imply censorship must sit and think about the answer to this question,” she said. So, who is responsible for the corrupt relations that exist between media and politics? It may change from case to case, but the result is the same: The threat that hangs over good journalism -- or whatever remains of it -- is becoming heavier. In the case of Murdoch it was a media mogul who drove journalism -- through criminal activity -- to a rotten state and uses it as an instrument to spread fear, to create a domain of self-impunity. In Turkey, it is the media proprietors who are so greedy in their businesses; they, and not the government, choose to become the destroyers of any decent journalism. We in international media must work together to bring down the financial villains who are the enemies of a profession they -- sadly -- rule over. 2011-07-12

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