As Turkey swiftly descends into total darkness…
“Democracy dies in darkness.” The simple slogan of the Washington Post that greets its readers every day sums up the democratic decay and decline that has engulfed Turkey.
On March 21, 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government registered a new, dark day with two important developments that signal the ultimate destruction of the media environment, an important buttress of democracy.
With the announcement that the country’s must powerful media company, Doğan Media Group (DMG), is to be sold to Demirören Group, known for its close ties to Erdoğan,
a large part of what remained of Turkey’s independent media fell under government control.
Based on circulation, ratings, distribution, and advertising statistics, this takeover has transformed at least 92 percent of the media into an organic extension of the government.
As print media and television have become a monopoly of the government, Internet media is also being turned into a wasteland, barren of critical voices.
Shortly after the announcement of the sale, Turkey’s parliament voted to approve a law placing audio-visual broadcasting websites, social media channels and platforms under the supervision of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the state broadcasting watchdog. The move is another important piece in the strategy of propagating darkness.
This means depriving society of the truth and the free exchange of ideas. There is no doubt such measures will intensify in the coming days.
A few vocal politicians from the enfeebled opposition are meanwhile struggling to convey SOS messages to the nation and the world.
Barış Yarkadaş, member of parliament for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the Doğan takeover would lead to a government monopoly on information.
“The monopoly you have created in the press will eradicate the people’s ability to acquire news, as well as their right to form public opinions freely,” he said “The distribution network of newspapers has come under the control of one party, and this will prevent opposition publications from reaching the public. Due to this media environment you have created, thousands more journalists will lose their jobs. Monopolisation is the death of both news and truth.”
Garo Paylan, a deputy for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the new law would mean a clampdown on online comment.
“Online, everyone is using their own efforts, through social media and other media resources, to try and reach citizens with their own publications. Everyone, not only parliamentarians or politicians, but everyone is trying to express themselves on social media. The regime has deemed even this space to be too much,” he said.
“With this article, YouTube could be shut down tomorrow. The moment that someone runs to RTÜK complaining, ‘there’s a video criticising Erdoğan,’ the moment this is seized by the media, the moment those pro-regime journalists cry foul, at that very moment YouTube could be banned. Netflix could be banned. If tomorrow we become a country in which Netflix and YouTube are banned, our country will have fallen into a league with the likes of North Korea,” Paylan said.
Inevitably, the sale of Doğan and RTÜK’s increased censorship powers will have grave consequences.
The sale brings all TV stations, the main influence on public opinion, under the control of the government.
Doğan News Agency was the only strong private-sector competitor of the official Anadolu Agency and is likely to become victim of downsizing measures by Demirören Group, which appears to have no interest in the democratic function of journalism.
Yay-Sat, Doğan Media’s distribution subsidiary, is set to meet the same fate, or closed down altogether. Yay-Sat has historically distributed secular, leftist and opposition newspapers. Following the sale of Doğan Media, there is a risk these newspapers will not reach readers in Turkey.
Sure enough, both Doğan Media’s sale and the RTÜK law are pieces of a political strategy that leads to authoritarianism.
By constricting free media, the Erdoğan regime has announced its determination to replace it with propaganda that renders the regime absolute, guaranteeing election results and leaving nothing to chance.
As Ahval, we see the darkness that targets Turkey, and are deeply concerned.
Is there an exit? In the struggle to prevent democracy sinking into darkness, it is obvious that the opposition’s efforts are limited and ineffective. But there are some avenues of action.
Do the opposition parties realise that these two developments make it very hard for them to reach voters in elections due next year and easier for the results of the polls to marred by fraud?
Are we witnessing a pluralistic country like Turkey being dragged towards a political monopoly?
There are actions that can be taken, beginning with the media.
If this regime takes for granted its right to monopolise the media sector, then voters have the right to boycott government media. This would mean not buying newspapers, and not watching government channels.
The opposition could lead the way in this passive resistance by boycotting government media and encouraging people to instead follow the few remaining TV and internet sites that fight to convey the truth. This is a natural democratic right.
Along with other independent media organisations inside and outside Turkey, Ahval is ready for a more potent encounter with our people, who are seeking the truth. As long as the democratic political opposition, regardless if its political stripe, shoulders the responsibility for voters’ freedom of choice.