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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Democracy of the Turkish Press [2]

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

Sometimes those thinking themselves above the law get a reminder we all have rules we need to play by.

The BBC reported at the end of March that Spectator columnist Rod Liddle has become the first blogger to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission over his statement on the Spectator's website the "overwhelming majority" of London's violent crime was carried out by young, African-Caribbean men.

The wisdom to be taken from this is that there is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary, but statements of fact must still be substantiated.

It's something that the paparazzi press globally thinks little of when its dips its poison ink into the skin of the artist - and nowhere is that more true than in the annals of the Turkish gutter press.

Screencap of NTV report
Tarkan's recent international news spike making him more newsworthy back home?
But is it any use to blame individual journalists? Consolidated media has meant only a certain kind of journalist makes it to the top and gets press credentials; there are some respected Turkish journalists in top places like paper Taraf and news station NTV. However, because traditionally the paparazzi press has not been counted as news at all, it has been able to fester free under the radar of any scrutiny whatsoever from its peers.

Although guilty of the charges he makes against the gutter press himself, Bugün correspondent Aykut Işıklar made a good point recently - a rare occurrence for him to be true - about the need for the Turkish press associations to rein in the paparazzi.

Obviously it's the case that paparazzi stories are in fact newsworthy, and even reputable news channels such as CNN and NTV are plastering their boards with celebrity "news" nowadays.

And it smacks of more than a bit of irony that the news spike Tarkan secured from the international press, during and after his arrest, seems to have given him news credibility in the eyes of some of the more reputable news channels at home. NTV now regards Tarkan as a local Madonna or Lady GaGa, printing off rumours about his love life as though the whole world was going to give a damn.

Or maybe they've just woken up to the fact that the cheap-to-produce entertainment and gossip stories the paparazzi specialise in will always get the public interest.

Although it has been said that politics is show business for ugly people, no political crisis will seem as sexy as the sordid love life of the latest TV drama casts, yet could there be a more sinister plot behind the Turkish gutter press' criminal attitude towards Tarkan?

Bugün correspondent Işıklar hinted at it as being one himself; traditionalist media moguls attacking those with a different outlook. Taraf's Telesiyej talked about it in regards to the reports that Pepsi has dropped Tarkan in the fallout to the drug scandal. There it was called engineering public morals by the private sector. Televizyon Gazetesi has done it; the TV news portal has taken a report of a poll on celebrity endorsements and coloured in the lines. Tarkan is "dragging on the floor" their headlines scream over a news story those holding the survey had described as public trust in Tarkan rising.

Or how about Star Gazete keeping the anonymity of all the others arrested alongside Tarkan, except for Tarkan's name, and it running a story of Tarkan's blood and urine samples coming back positive for drugs and that Tarkan was using drugs to cope with stress - with Tarkan's lawyer denying any such test being taken?

A Lot of Celebrity Hot Air

So, could the plot be about damaging Tarkan's name? As a celebrity endorsement, what Tarkan stands for might be hard to swallow by someone of the far-right persuasion in Turkey. Even though Tarkan's paternal political background is an ultra-nationalist one, to some he's the winds of change against the status quo.

It's not surprising some find his large following in the Turkish public disturbing to their own sense of morals. With his blurring the Turkish male stereotype, protesting against the country's energy needs overtaking nature conservation and stripping down for PETA - not only would Tarkan's dad be spinning in his grave - he stood as far away from the Turkish traditionalist stance as gamma does from infrared on the spectrum of light.

Celebrity endorsements are a lot of hot air
Are celebrity endorsements
a lot of hot air?
Like elsewhere in today's markets, celebrity endorsements are big business in Turkey. In Britain, it gained high profile (and a bad name) when Tony Blair invited a load of stars to join him as he moved into Downing Street in 1997, but even here we've got a long way to go until we reach the dizzying heights of the United States, where Barack Obama got in on a raft of celebrity endorsements.

Recently, the current Turkish government tried their hand at their own version of Blairite celebrity endorsement, by inviting homegrown celebs in the music industry for brunch to "talk" about where Turkey was heading. It was looking for validation. It was looking to be hip.

The prime minister, with his usual retro-panache, quoted the artists' own lyrics back at them as he outlined his own vision of a new Turkey. Meanwhile most of the celebrities attending left any street cred they might have had at the door, and forgot to pick it back up on the way out again.

To some it left a bad taste in the mouth, much as Blair's celebrity back shoulder rubbing had done when he had become prime minister. For many these events are just a photo opportunity with a lot of hot air rhetoric.

The reason celebrity endorsements mixed with politics can all seem a lot of hot air is because the public might not mind our favourite idols telling us what to buy, but telling us how we should vote is something money or fame can't buy. One hits our hearts, while the other will inevitably hit our pockets (much deeper than the cost of a record or concert ticket).

It's at times like these the news media should collectively be a watchdog for the public interest, and show a bite as hard as any hard-nosed paparazzi reporter - where they could learn a thing or two from those traditionally considered at the bottom of the news industry's barrel.

Imagine if Turkish journalists were as aggressive and relentless as a paparazzo desperately trying to get a Tarkan quote, to ask the prime minister exactly how are Turkey's ills going to be cured?

But at the televised brunch in Turkey, the respected journos all played soft ball; these were songs the Turkish public had all heard before. We can but wonder which song and what lyrics from Tarkan's repertoire the prime minister's speech writer would have chosen for the speech, had Tarkan accepted the invitation to attend.

Would the Turkish prime minister have blown kisses at the TV screen?

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