Istanbul, 4 November 2014
Summary : Representatives of different organisations such as TGS, EFJ, EJN, P24, Bianet, IPA and TPA came together in İstanbul on 4th November 2014. The theme of roundtable meeting was press freedom in Turkey and the possibilities for solidarity around ethical perspectives of journalism.
TGS representative Mustafa Kuleli started the roundtable meeting by focusing on the renaissance in the trade union and introducing the partners. Mehmet Koksal from European Federation of Journalists stated that they are grateful about TGS’s efforts to defend journalists rights in the country.
In his opening speech Mehmet Koksal stated that there is an extremely worrying condition about the status of journalists and journalism in Turkey. Turkey is focused in European press mostly in terms of authoritarian policies of government and likewise developments. Koksal emphasized that in order to focus on new topics journalists in Turkey, there is a need for a fresh start to effectively ﬁght the corruption in the media, re-assess the working conditions of journalists, emphasize on EU labour standards, explore new ways to organize the freelancers and get new members.
White: This is a Beginning for a Resistance
Aidan White, who represents the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), stated that he is in the meeting to promote works of a new journalist network involving traditional and online journalists and broadcasters, which can be named as a platform for corporation. White emphasized that this meeting is meant to be a beginning for a process that can begin a kind of resistance. White described the context of resistance as a professional one rather than a one that is concerned with political problems in Turkey.
Stating that the aim is not to change the world today or create a debate on the future of journalism, White proposed that meeting should focus on the ethical solidarity for the freedom and future of journalism.
Finkel: Journalism Has Always Been Under Pressure
After stating his happiness with existing developments about TGS and its achievements, Andrew Finkel, representative from Platform 24, stated that journalism in Turkey has been under pressure not only since the Gezi events (june 2013) but always. But there are still some speciﬁc points. Each form of existing journalism practices in Turkey involves unfair competition especially for independent journalism. Even if there are some media corporations that would like to be independent, other media corporations close to the government like Sabah & ATV do not have concerns such as news broadcasting because they are more interested in supporting government to get new market share in other sector. There is no fair competition even if the numbers of paid distribution might have been the same for Taraf and Sabah (examples for oppositional and pro-government newspapers).
Finkel remembered that Güneş newspaper under Asil Nadir’s administration was a different experience in 1990s. There was a type of ‘real journalism’ in the timespan that Güneş was published as there were real journalists working there and looking at the power relations. Today, Sabah newspaper is taking its power from the government support. According to him there is a converse relation. There is a strict categorization in Turkey which might be stated as biased (pro-government) media and independent media.
Independent Media Gained Popularity
Andrew Finkel exempliﬁed T24.com.tr as an independent journalism enterprise whose clicks are around 120,000 per day now and used to be about 30,000 at the times it was established. Finkel stated that political events such as Gezi created a great increase in this kind of web based newspaper’s hits and this potential should be seriously considered.
Finkel claimed that, T24 itself has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media while popular columnist such as Hasan Cemal himself has hundred thousands of followers. Finkel spoke of Gezi as an era that understanding of « Penguin media » got a credibility and people became aware of manipulations of mainstream media.
Finkel also talked about being a foreign journalist in Turkey and its possible perceptions: « We as foreigner journalists are thought to be writing more independently so the government wants to slow down us. The general economic pressure on journalism is the real story that we should focus on right now. ‘How we may support them?’ The ideal situation is would be that journalists could rely on a powerful union so they cannot be easily harmed. But if we behave realistically such an expectation is not that much possible in the near future. But it doesn’t mean that there can’t be a kind of professional solidarity over here. Legal assistance for journalists losing their jobs should be provided. For example, we have to ensure that when there is an attempt to censor an article, if news can’t be published on their original platforms, we should start a solidarity that can let them publish their contents on a free platform.
Mentioning the Twitter ban in Turkey just before the local elections, Finkel stated thatdifferent social networks represent different demographical networks. While YouTube and Twitter are more likely to be under the hegemony of oppositional groups, Facebook is a more inclusive network that also involves pro-AKP groups in Turkey. Finkel talked about Facebook as a possible media of the future. Finkel concluded his speech by saying that there should be a kind of solidarity between trade union members and journalists who are not members of the union.
Aidan White stated that talking about the representation of journalists is from bottom to up a journalism solidarity question. Saying that, there are even editors who do not respect journalists. White explained that public interest is not respected by media owners. Pressure from the upper level not only prevents journalists from supporting one and other but also becoming member of any union is considered as dangerous. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if the union is performing well or not. Within democratic corporations respect and credits towards the journalism is unfortunately in a decreasing mood.
Önderoğlu: Each Political Manoeuvra is Named as Pro-Coup
Erol Önderoğlu from Bianet focused on journalists’ understanding of ethical issues in Turkey: Önderoğlu stated that in Turkey, solidarity and integrity conditions of journalist to move together is on a really critical situation. Comparing conditions with the ones 5 or 10 years ago, the question how journalists would ethically and professionally break the chain might be responded more easily Önderoğlu stated.
Önderoğlu stated that White’s statements are fullﬁlled ‘on paper’ in Turkey in terms of laws and reforms. The country made some reforms which provided a comfortable ten years and journalists thought that dilemmas coming from the past might have been resolved. But in the last 5 years; under the inﬂuence of the current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, each political move has been named as a potential coup. European Union reforms have been misused by the government to enlarge its own power. Now, there is a kind of situation that communities, including the journalists, can’t come back together anymore.
There is a need for a change
Önderoğlu continued on his statements: Political climate is poisoned by various factors. In Turkey, journalism is not a social occupation. Being a reporter is a thing to ‘get rid of’ as quickly as possible. It is not the problem of celebrity journalists. But until 3 years ago; there was no columnist who was a member of a trade union. Until the arrest of Ahmet and Nedim in the OdaTV case there have been no unity between columnists and journalists.
We need to re-socialize this profession. We need to make journalism social again. Even a typical community can make it much probable easily. There must be a really traditional perspective towards the survival of journalism in Turkey. Taking creative initiatives, some wise people should come together and evaluate the problems together. Academics, media employees and union members should all come together and work on it. We need to establish a constructive form. It really is a difﬁcult thing to do now.
Önderoğlu also focused on positive examples in new and traditional media, but he said that, there should be a ﬁnancial and professional support from the international organizations and there is a need to tell people that ‘there is a need for making difference’. medium that can provide sustainable independent journalism practice. There were people from really different political perspectives. He said they saw that we can act under a common principle. So they have an idea of providing a press agency involving unemployed journalists, that may help people to get organized, have access to press cards at the same time and create new job opportunities for local journalists.
Journalism’s Reputation Should be Developed!
Jose Borginho from IPA (International Publishers Association) stated that Journalism is a news or information someone, somewhere, doesn’t want you to ﬁnd out and the rest is advertising. If you focus on something like that you can come to an understanding or an agreement that information is useful and necessary for any democracy to function. If you raise/show the value of transparent and objective information gathering that will effect individuals so this will rise the proﬁle and the perception of what journalists are doing in Turkey. Only this way reputation among journalism might be developed.
Erol Önderoğlu also claimed that journalists are aware of all the organizations in Europe dealing with press freedom issues (CPJ, RSF, EFJ, FH,..). Önderoğlu said that people need of course press freedom more especially on these days. But there is no that much trafﬁc around the ethical practice of journalism. There is no real ethical press council in Turkey. Every corporation has their own ethical deﬁnitions. There is no consensus available on ethical and independent standards. There is also no international solidarity or cooperation on those issues. There is no global network that may enforce the efforts of local unions. What Ethical Journalism Network may do is giving international credibility and support to those local partners in provide ethical perspective in doing journalism.
Media’s Credibility is limited
Deniz Ergüler from Zaman newspaper focused his intervention on how to create publictrust in today’s media atmosphere: ”Media has the leading responsibility in this issue: media has the aim of creating a progress in the media. We as journalists have a kind of special status because we have the possibility to ask questions. But the credibility of the journalists is in a kind of decadence because the average reporter is reporting on various themes and doesn’t have time to check and to investigate on complex issues. It is hard to trust reporters. Being a reporter is perceived as a ‘rookie’ service. In the West, being a reporter is understood as a high professional status. How much you may expect from a journalist that you pay 1500 TL. Erdoğan’s credibility is 48% while media’s credibility is 32% according to a recent Pew research study. As media we do not have enough capacity to do our best. We need to have sensitivity of getting enough experience on a speciﬁc issue. Funding 10 qualiﬁed reporters is better than hiring 30 regular reporters without any understanding of the role of the press as watchdog of democracy.
Ceren Sözeri, media expert and researcher at Galatasaray University, started her speech stating that there is a need for a fair economic order for all steps of journalism. Ceren Sözeri started their words with some comparaison between the media sector in the Balkan countries and Turkey in terms of freedom of expression. She stated that she recognized how fast they (fresh born European countries) are progressing on this issue while Turkey is in a kind of collapse. Journalism and media ownership has always been integrated to government and politics. According to Sözeri, when journalists will start feeling like journalists, we can start over something. If you look to the history of journalism from 1960s, we can say that journalism has always been considered as a ‘short term’ employment to have access to the higher position.
There is a discrimination about reporters
Sözeri also emphasised the discrimination between journalists and columnists in terms of their income level and statuses. Average wage of reporters in Turkey is today around 1500 TL, columnists’ average varies between 10,000 to 30,000 liras according to a report referred by Sözeri. Sözeri claimed that these authors or columnists are the people who have political agendas, they would like to be regarded more as political advisors than as journalists. Sözeri continued her speech concentrating on advertising as a form of funding journalism for both mainstream and alternative media: There is a concentration in advertising on websites of mainstream media. So there is a great problem in the budgeting of the alternative media. In terms of solidarity, in Turkey we can’t even cooperate and reach an agreement to help journalists in prison.
Readers’ Demand For News Should be Reconsidered
Most of us do not have opinions about readers’ demands. We don’t know what they really expect from the media. It might be about people’s despair about the media. Now we have to make news get its credibility back. International organisations may do something to support this perspective. There should be some projects that may provide journalists anonymity. Media property is always problematic and the only way of creating a fair system is to end the ‘multiple-ownership’. But if the owner is a single person, he/she always dictates the way that media should run.
Kuleli: We Need to Make Union Membership Trendy
It is important to know what is usually not ‘questioned’ on the media. I’ve personally experienced the situation as a former anchorperson when I’ve been questioned about the questions asked to a guest and considered by the boss as inconvenient. And this was happening in a so called « democratic » left-wing company.
The ‘ego’ question is really problematic. In Turkey, spin doctoring is thought to be equal to journalism. This is not the same, journalists are not here to advise to politicians. About the membership rate, we have a problem of making union something more trendy and comfortable. Getting celebrities might be functional. There have been many of them helping the TGS recently. In such a pessimistic frame, there is still a demand for change.
In last year we increased our membership afﬁliation rate by 25 %. It means that there is a need. We need to create some success stories. People should state for example that unemployed or freelance journalists in Turkey created a model and it worked. Little step but thanks to some support from projects this might be working. Journalism in Turkey is experiencing its worst and most unorganized period. We need a more conﬁdent discourse and a stronger model.
Yonca Cingöz: Journalists Should be Informed About Their Rights
Representative person of TPA (Turkish Publishers Association), Yonca Cingöz started her speech by deﬁning the role and perspective of their association: Our perspective towards freedom of expressions is under an umbrella term that we deﬁne as the freedom of publishing. We mostly represent book publishers. Since 1995 we have been awarding people for freedom of expression and speech. Today, while we are following up from the press, visibility of publishers’ rights is much less in the media. It may me probably because of the self censorship. Especially in Kurdish region, publishers with political views are facing trials opened based on the anti-terrorism laws. The censor mechanisms since the 1990s are still available. Closing down companies, some penalties regarding recollection of books are still some of the methods used for penalizing publishers. There is still a council mechanism preparing reports about books and these reports are used for opening trials against publishers. The publishers, authors and journalists are working under these circumstances but usually they are not aware of that. Relatively, we feel that authors should be informed about their rights and freedoms.
Jose Borghino: Self Censorship Is Self Infantilisation!
Saying that he is in the meeting for understanding the political situation in Turkey; Jose Borginho stated that IPA has always been following of the situation in Turkey. Borghino stated that even corporations such as Apple are censoring content and blocking its sale from iTunes store. Borghino suggested that commercial visibility is a new form of censorship that is newly provided by Apple. Bourgeon explained that it is harder to ﬁght against self-censorship as it is invisible while censorship is much more visible. If censorship can be considered as infantilization, self censorship is self-infantilization. Borginho stated that they will be working with TPA on a EU project for freedom to publish and freedom of expression.
White: Accuracy, Humanity and Accountability should be our values!
White stated that it was a rare meeting that he didn’t have a draft announcement to be announced at the end of the day and there are no single type of answers for our problems and questions. White stated that, Ethical Journalism Network is ready to support projects in Turkey with its limited ressources. White defended that people from different groups should come together for such meetings and there should be a kind of common agreement about ethical criteria. Accuracy, humanity and accountability should be the values that we should be committed to.
Saying that ethical and good journalism is a responsibility of all levels in news making process, from management to reporting, White proposed that concerned individuals, existing media organizations and trade unions in Turkey should come together to work on these problems which can be considered as an “Ethical Coalition for Journalism” White invited IPA, EFJ and all other groups to support such a coalition.