Turkey’s media is heavily controlled by the governing party and its crony investors. There are many media moguls that invest in energy, construction or other developmental sectors which are receiving large projects for astronomical fees which are based on taxpayers’ money. The slightest reaction to this order now tends to spark massive calls for a “new media” as seen in the former presidential candidate Muharrem İnce’s outburst on last Friday evening.
Late on the evening of May 29, main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP’s former presidential candidate Muharrem İnce -who gave hope to millions of voters in 2018 “raid elections” which were declared with roughly 60 days in advance- participated in a TV program on Haber Global that did not have too high a viewership until İnce left the studio in anger.
Earlier on Friday Haber Global had announced that they would be asking former CHP deputy & presidential candidate İnce about the recent heated topics of the agenda; what he says about broadcasting Bella Ciao from mosque minarets, does he expect an early election, any comments on the recently founded breakaway parties from governing Justice & Development Party AKP.
As the Haber Global TV channel claims, İnce was notified of the detailed program of the evening before the program began. Namely, that during the program there would be an interval for AKP chair & President Erdoğan to give his speech for the 567th anniversary of the Conquest of Istanbul as all channels in the country tuned in. The channel continues to explain in its written statement on Twitter “İnce had stated that he would criticize the program if it was interrupted with the President’s address, to which we said that we would respect this criticism.”
Following the broadcast returning to the studio, İnce appeared in front of the cameras again and engaged in a monologue:
“You saId you would not aIr thIs but you dId. Do not be so afraId! There are already 35 dIfferent channels lIve on aIr at the moment broadcastIng that speech and I am here, speakIng. Then for a thIrd tIme you cut my speech and put hIm on screen. I am never comIng back to your channel agaIn, Turkey wIll be rId of thIs fascIst regIme. On 35 screens Erdoğan Is speakIng; I am someone who contested hIm two years ago. I wIll not let my honor be a toy. You can contInue by yourselves. ThIs Is dIsrespect, Turkey does not deserve thIs. Erdoğan Is not the owner of thIs land. I am not afraId of Erdoğan, there are many other platforms where I can speak my words, there Is the streets. Erdoğan Is not the founder nor the owner of thIs country. If you InvIte someone here, you wIll get hIm to speak. I am not speakIng to you, but to your bosses. I cannot suck up to anyone. Turkey Is In need of a struggle for democracy, I have receIved the vote of 16 mIllIon cItIzens, you are showIng dIsrespect to them.”
İnce stormed off from the studio after these words. He was right in what he said… According to some general statistics 96% of the media in Turkey is either directly or indirectly controlled by the governing alliance; except for a few marginalized screens, the government has absolute control of the narrative, commentary, news flow in conventional media. However one would suspect, is İnce exaggerating at all?
Shortly after İnce stormed off the studio, Presidential Communications Director Dr. Fahrettin Altun came up with a comment on İnce’s outburst, “we are saddened to see Mr. İnce’s words upon the moments when he was giving a speech on a TV program coinciding with our President’s address. Mr. İnce has accused Mr. President of unbaked, wrong and heavy accusations regarding the free choice of a privately owned network; this attitude is unacceptable. Every single media organization operating in Turkey can freely declare their opinion and reflect their editorial policy and continue operations within the legal framework. Mr. İnce’s attitude is considered in terms of a false accusation to our side.”
Now, this makes one wonder “is it really an atmosphere of freedom and liberty as the director of communications claims? Does the media have any freedom to choose not to broadcast the President’s address?”
I suspect there are even timers for screens, whether or not if the media covered all minutes, or if they missed a part of the address. Would this result in a penalty for the channel? Not in the conventional sense; those marginalized alternative screens do not air these addresses and they are able to operate.
But in the case of the ones that do air the President’s address, the owners of these channels -if they are not linked directly to the governing authority- they aspire to “win” a few tendering processes from the state, to batten on the public resources for an incredibly high fee in return for a mediocre service. Now I am not aware of whether or not the investors of Haber Global have any other investments -yet. For all the other media, not airing the address would mean losing a few points in those tendering meetings that take place through invitation for bidding, instead of open call -as in any functioning market economy.
However if one considers all the troubles that alternative channels go through for not fully complying with the state imposed mono-vocal multimedia standards applied by the Radio & TV Higher Council RTÜK through heavy fines, the channel can not risk falling into that radar, hence all screens have this mono-vocal broadcast.
What the former presidential candidate did was to walk away from a screen that favors the sitting President over any other narrative; for a long time now the alternative media had been attempting to bring more spotlight to the opposition figures. Sometimes these media platforms emerged as an extension of the opposition parties, and in fewer cases completely independent.
In the case of independent media, usually the opposition representatives did not embrace the platforms and continued to wait for an invitation from the usual suspects of the media landscape, aiming to reach millions of voters with one show. Since last year, main opposition CHP has been boycotting CNN Türk and continues to unearth more and more reasons with each story running on the screen.
İnce’s current attitude though will hardly ever work, even though it caused a temporary hype among the opposition electorate… Current Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has proven the change of media methods very well on the evening of March 31, 2019 with his non-stop commentary in front of cameras from various platforms. He was the one not to shy away from a small newsroom and in the end those small screens got bigger.
Another example who can be cited in the same area is the Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca, who -unlike all other members of the cabinet- did not cast out the critical media outlets from his daily press conferences but responded to all reporters and all criticism calmly, explaining facts and keeping an open channel, during the coronavirus pandemic measures period. As a reward for his openness with media, his popularity has surpassed all others in the cabinet, including the President himself.
İnce no matter how rightful in his statements about the media is too late in this. I am not saying that he wrongly criticized the media or did not respond to media before. However the fact that he conceded the presidential elections of 2018 with an SMS sent to a journalist announcing “the man has won” is still a major trauma for the opposition. He will still surely mobilize some people, even a loud group of people; but this is a game of the former era and is no longer valid to build up the future.
In the contemporary setting, his relevance is gradually sliding away. And he is holding on to that relevance bar strong. What strikes me when I look at his reaction on the evening of May 29 is an outburst when his name was not even considered as a potential candidate in multiple opinion polls recently amidst rumors of an early presidential election. Even though he never uttered this fact, it was a loud silent constant on the screen that evening.
I believe in the coming period we will get to hear him more and more on multiple platforms; that reaction is sure to gain him a bigger place on screens be it through the conventional media or digital borns. However there is still a major question on the minds of all the people that voted for him, “where was he on the evening of June 24, 2018 when everyone expected him to be in front of cameras to admit defeat or contest results?” Millions of frustrated İnce-voters are still waiting for a detailed explanation of the course of that evening after all…