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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Short Term Memory of the Turkish Press

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

Article banner: Can we trust the Turkish press?

The Turkish media in all its incarnations is a strange animal.

Turkish paper Zaman, for example, meant to be reputable, has convicted Tarkan of drug abuse, labelled him a cocaine user, and adds him in with other drug-taking celebrities as though Tarkan has been charged and found guilty by a court of law (see here for examples).

Zaman's reports have focused more on what they term as Tarkan's "red carpet treatment" by the police, and the supposed criticism it has raised ("'Custody privileges' shake trust in justice") and calling his four-day detention as "unusually short" ("Detainee numbers rival number of convicts"), rather than the actual facts of the case.

Even in what should be the most reputable news source in Turkey there is, public broadcaster the TRT's report on Tarkan's custody revolved around the star's "royal" treatment by the authorities.

That isn't reporting the news.

Couldn't the non-handcuff treatment of the singer have been because the man was actually innocent or not considered a threat?

But the general consensus in the press was that the minute Tarkan was taken into police custody, he was guilty. This is very clear in reports comparing Tarkan's detainment with the arrest, conviction and incarceration of Deniz Seki, a female singer who is a known cocaine addict (Bugün).

The two singers are compared, claiming Tarkan to have had the huge support of a "60 man legal team" and his fellow singers - with even the police allegedly playing his songs to welcome him into custody! - but nowhere does it list the point that Tarkan may in fact be innocent.

Read All About It: Barbie Sniffs Out the Boss!

And take a look at some of the reports that came out while Tarkan was still in custody. Takvim reported that supposedly Tarkan had a "nickname" amongst the drug dealers as the "Boss", while Vatan reported that Tarkan was entrapped while dealing for drugs over the phone using cryptic terminology.

Other reports talked about a drug sniffer dog named Barbie who helped sniff out the singer's gang - something which was picked up by a German news site, too.

Bear in mind, when these reports came out Tarkan hadn't probably even given his statement to the police or prosecution yet, he had just been detained, or there was no way the media could have gotten hold of Tarkan's statement, as he was just about to be released. One Vatan article dates as far back as 26 February, while the Takvim article is dated 1 March.

Of course such stories read better than Tarkan might be innocent, or even just reporting the facts of the case. No intrigue there.

Screencap of reportAnd after his release, other reports claimed that Tarkan had started "using drugs six years ago" and that he had "confessed" after "a four day interrogation" (see left pic).

Even CNNTurk wasn't immune, reporting on Tarkan's statement as though they had heard it or seen a copy of it, to write that Tarkan had confessed to taking drugs and "was sorry".

So how could reporters know such highly sensitive details without any official statements? They couldn't. These are the sorts of reports that Tarkan's lawyer would later come out to decry as complete fabrication, and it makes you think, how supposedly reputable newspapers are all uniting to seemingly print complete lies about Tarkan.

Public debates followed (had already begun even before Tarkan was released) on how the artist was destroying the morals of the young by setting a bad example to the fans who looked up to him. Calls were made for Tarkan to come out and make a personal press statement and share his shame in the bright flash of the paparazzi lights.

Is it any wonder then that the singer's lawyer - rather melodramatically - called it a public lynching of his client?

No Turkish Media to Speak of?

This isn't to say that all the Turkish media are incompetent at reporting the facts.

Screencap of reportBut even Turkish news station NTV - generally regarded as the most trustworthy news station in Turkey and the one Tarkan's lawyer chose to speak on - has not been safe from criticism about its reporting of the case (see left pic).

And I'm not talking about the journalists that attacked a lack of curiosity of the reporter who spoke to Tarkan's defence lawyer. Some of the critics of the interview with the recording artist's legal representative raised some good points.

And I'm not even talking about the minor discrepancies in NTV's reporting - they can't seem to make up their mind whether Tarkan was detained for 4 days or 5 (look at the report here).

It's the style of reporting in general. In criticism of NTV, newspaper Taraf, relatively new but seen as a higher class of print, carries in its TV critic's column Telesiyej a short article on what good journalism should be.

In an article talking about NTV's morning news coverage of Tarkan being brought to court (and the possibility of a body double being used for the benefit of reporters), the TV critic argues there shouldn't be a report of "likelihoods" or "possibilities" - but that more importantly "a truth" shouldn't be created out of them.

It's something the general Turkish press would do well to heed.

The Junk Food Press

You wonder why reporters do it, if they're not aware that in the future their ridiculous articles will turn against them in hindsight to bite their proverbial butt.

Or is it a case that they are generally trustworthy, but they go gaga when it comes to Tarkan? It is, after all, only entertainment news, right?

But celebrity reports will be important to historians to show what culture was like at a particular time. And it's not only the subject of the reports, but the style of reporting that can tell a lot about the society it is published in, too.

So - even more seriously - is it a case of the Turkish press not treating the news as newsworthy? If so, they why would their reports need to be verifiable and supported by strong facts?

If their reports are not going to be an archive of history read by the generations to come after them, but rather as something temporary of its day - like junk food - then it's understandable if they write it like a quick snack to pass the time with.

But we all know junk food is not good for you; maybe its an indication of just how indigestible Turkish news reports are becoming.

And just what does that say about Turkey as a country?

The Impermanence of Turkish Journalism

Haberturk's new lookMedia portal Haberturk's recent actions seem to show it has a complete a disregard for its archives. Its latest incarnation has seen fit to completely overhaul its reports, so that all the links to its previously published news articles has now changed or been removed, to boast a new design (pictured left).

Maybe it's just trying to clean up its act, but this dismissive treatment of their own archives gives no sense of permanence, or trustworthiness to future reports. If the links or the reports themselves can disappear at any time, the reports can't be held to account with hindsight.

Compare this with the BBC, which holds to a manifesto to keep all its old news articles online with its original links active, as part of its virtual archives.

Haberturk's pre-March 2010 coverage on Tarkan can still be found on Tarkan Deluxe, even if the original source's links are now defunct, because Tarkan Deluxe holds to the same policy that its archives remain unchanged and permanent.

To me that's a sign of trust, of standing by what has been reported. If any mistakes are made, a paper can publicly retract or update its pages, making clear it has done so. They shouldn't just disappear.

A newspaper's memory is its archives, and it shouldn't be short-term. If you can just delete your archives, then what is anything without a sense of history, or archives that we as readers can check through to see how their reports stand the test of time?

As a blog trying to help cut through confusion, and report the facts as they are, it's an important question for Tarkan Deluxe: Which news sources should we trust, and which ones should we as a blog use to report?

Or should we report everything and let the reader make up his/her mind, hoping it won't lead to confusion?

Turkish Press' Short-Term Memory

ScreencapWhen Tarkan was taken into custody, and subsequently released, it made the headlines all across the globe. Take a look at just the headlines from international sources to see what a buzz the singer's plight generated across news agencies (see left pic).

Throughout my coverage of the anti-drug sting, I have covered as many of the international reports I could, and still there are reports we haven't archived. From the obvious German variety sites to Polish sites, and even a press release reaching a TV station in USA's Nebraska - the collection has been varied and immense.

But there is one unifying factor. Apart from those non-Turkish news channels that came over to Turkey to report for themselves, all international correspondence had to use Turkish media agencies as their primary source.

So, it doesn't take a Turkish journalist to see how important proper journalism is. And thanks to the internet, a fabrication printed by a source people believe reputable can spread and spread.

In this respect, and in regards to Tarkan, the Turkish media in all its incarnations seems a dangerous animal. But there is something Tarkan fans, and the Turkish public can do. Write to the papers. Complain. Make others aware of the situation. Make the Turkish press aware of their actions.

Jog the press' short-term memory; remind them, so that they don't forget, or tell them they simply can't wipe their archives and begin again. Show them the public conscience has a longer memory span.

Because the sloppy journalism that attacks Tarkan's career is an infection; it will spread to all other areas of journalism in Turkey if it is not checked.

And if that happens, it won't only be us at Tarkan Deluxe who'll be confused as to what to trust to print from Turkey.

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