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Monday, March 08, 2010

What Now for Tarkan?

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

Tarkan after his release on Monday, 1 March, 2010

In Tarkan's career there have been landmarks where his personal life has come crashing in on his professional one.

The "pee gaffe", the military issue and rumours about his homosexuality have all caused controversy in the wake of his songs that have pulled at the heartstrings of boys and girls of every nation.

Undoubtedly, the "drug bust" will become one such landmark, and possibly the most impacting one of his career, but with Tarkan's lawyer coming out to protest the singer's innocence, what will it ultimately mark?

If nothing else, could it bring about a re-evaluation of the Turkish press' relationship with its own bad boy, and at its best be a re-evaluation of the Turkish press within itself and its own codes of conduct towards reporting?

Or - and this runs the risk of sounding like so many of Tarkan's critics - maybe all it will have done is to generate a massive buzz around the harangued singer just before an eagerly contemplated record release?

In the Headlines

Screencap of reportsWhen the news broke of Tarkan being taken in by Turkish police for questioning after a drugs raid on his ranch in Istanbul, it seemed to break everywhere (see left pic).

From CNN in America to the Daily Telegraph in the UK, from the China Daily to the Bild in Germany - in articles big and small, space was made for the news of Tarkan's detainment in his parent's home nation all across the world. CNNTurk also reported how the news had caught the attention of the international media, citing ABC and the Washington Post amongst others - and that the news had made German and Russian TV stations, too.

The article wrote how the story was one of the most read in Russian news portals, and that Russian news stations had set up a live news link-up outside the courts.

Other reports, claiming this to be "Tarkan's fateful day" wrote that Russian and Japanese fans had blocked the phone lines by calling Tarkan's manager to get news about the singer.

Russian TV news channels broadcast the story covering Tarkan's detainment (video footage courtesy of Russian new sources)

And if the whole debacle is testament to something good, it is to his name; giving weight to those who would argue at home and abroad that Tarkan is indeed "Turkey's most famous star" (as labelled by CNN World).

Tarkan's Long Weekend

Tarkan arriving at court in Istanbul on Monday, 1 March, 2010However, while Tarkan was detained by the police for four days, it did more than energise the media industry in Turkey, or heighten the media buzz around the singer after what had been a pretty tame month previously.

It arguably blew the lid on the type of reporting we in the West equate with gutter journalism. The only difference being that apart from a few stand alone papers, the whole spectrum of the artist's domestic media had united to label Tarkan as a cocaine addict with no proof or official statement forthcoming from any quarter - apart from what read as an execution from their own prejudiced minds.

Turkish paper Sabah correspondent Hıncal Uluç called it the "irresistible pleasure of knocking down Tarkan" in his 4 March dated piece where he took his colleagues to task for the way they had treated the star's seemingly huge fall from grace. Although columnists in the same paper came out in agreement with Uluç, invariably defending Tarkan drew the swords in his direction, too.

And while some wondered why the Sabah reporter was "defending a cocaine addict", others were criticising the journalist that spoke to Tarkan's lawyer on NTV.

Tarkan's lawyer had claimed that Tarkan was completely innocent of all charges, and that all reports in the press were false, but some in the press wondered why the interviewing journalist was just listening and not questioning the singer's lawyer more closely about the event.

What is the Truth?

Some of the questions asked by critics of the NTV talk show are pertinent.

If Tarkan is completely innocent of all charges as his lawyer claims, then why was he part of a six month undercover operation by the police? What was the reason given by the police for this? If Tarkan is completely innocent, why was he detained for four days? (Tarkan's lawyer suggested that it was because there were a lot of people to interview. But surely it doesn't take four days to interview eleven people?) Is the report that 12.5 grams of cannabis was found at Tarkan's home false, too? If Tarkan has been unfairly treated, then isn't the police more guilty than the press? And if Tarkan has been wrongfully detained, then is he thinking of going to the European Court of Human Rights?

Moreover, were all the news reports just publishing lies, as Tarkan's lawyer claimed when he spoke for the first time to answer questions about Tarkan's four day detainment on Turkish news station NTV?

Obviously most articles were the usual gossip and conjecture reported as fact, to which the Turkish public is so used to seeing from a mainly unchecked industry, but were all the articles circulated with no merit?

Screencap of reportFor example, CNNTurk's coverage of Tarkan's release published that Tarkan had been questioned for 45 minutes, producing a statement two and a half pages long, which it says is at odds with what Tarkan's lawyer alleges is the singer's "complete innocence" (see left pic).

CNNTurk also claimed in the report - without citing any sources - that Tarkan had accepted he used drugs and was "sorry", but that he denied supplying drugs to friends. The report also claims that Tarkan said he had got the 12.5 grams of cannabis (reportedly seized from his home in Istanbul during the raid) from a friend without payment, and that he had done this a few times. It also noted that Tarkan's lawyer had distributed a press statement after Tarkan's release completely contradicting these claims.

But it seems strange why Tarkan's lawyer would lie, when as a lawyer of some calibre he would surely know that the discovery of any statement the artist made would quickly rebut any such claims of innocence.

And what about the trustworthiness of the news during Tarkan's detention that was released by the Turkish press? Surely that needs to be questioned, too.

Tarkan was tried and convicted in the papers; he was labelled a cocaine addict. Rumours that he had started his "addiction" in America were followed by speculations that it was all down to a tough childhood. Debates were also started, and papers began to discuss how Tarkan had become a bad influence on the youth of his parents' home nation. And at the time Tarkan hadn't even been released - or charged - yet.

Even international reports were not immune to the melodrama, with one German report stating that Tarkan was linked to the drug ring after a sniffer dog called Barbie had caught out a Dutch man going through Turkish customs. Subsequent investigations - the report claimed - led police to the nickname of a client, which would eventually turn out to be that of Tarkan. The verification of such a story is impossible, and the release of such sensitive information before a trial highly unlikely.

A Landmark of Re-evaluations?

Clearly, after the wake of the NTV interview, Tarkan's lawyer has not silenced all the critics, and there are questions that still need answers. This doesn't mean Tarkan is guilty of anything, except possibly not coming out to answer his critics head on. For the press, even if almost criminally bad in their execution, are only trying to do their job.

Tarkan fans would have been glad to see a dent in the domestic press' zealous ardour, and have Tarkan's press relations team garner a coup, with the star photographed going in to court looking forlorn (which some reports speculate was actually a body double) only to have him come out triumphant - but it is not as easy as it looks in the photographs of Tarkan's release. The waters are far from clear.

Tarkan arriving at court in Istanbul on Monday, 1 March, 2010Tarkan arriving at court in Istanbul on Monday, 1 March, 2010Tarkan arriving at court in Istanbul on Monday, 1 March, 2010Tarkan arriving at court in Istanbul on Monday, 1 March, 2010
Tarkan (?) goes in to court...

Tarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same day
Tarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same dayTarkan released from court same day
...and comes back out again - but is he cleared of all charges?

There was a time to keep silent, but now that time is gone, because from the reports still being published, it seems there is still a story to be told. And if the legal process is over - at least for Tarkan - then he should be able to speak up, unless he is likely to return to court as witness or accused.

There is also the juxtaposition - as hinted by CNNTurk - of a smiling Tarkan greeting reporters outside the court, and a tearful Tarkan moments later in his vehicle as he is driven away.

Was it relief from being exonerated - has Tarkan in fact been cleared? it is not certain - or was it something else? Could it indeed have been due to the singer becoming overwhelmed by the support from his fans waiting outside for him during his detention?

But fans need to hear the truth of the matter from Tarkan's mouth now, and not any mouth-piece. It's the only way to lay to rest once and for all - at least in the minds of the faithful - the rumours of Tarkan and any drug addiction, and to confirm what lies in the road ahead for Turkey's most famous pop star.

And it's a journey that every fan hopes will include - of course - the next album release.

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