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Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Democracy of the Turkish Press [1]

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

With news out yesterday of Akşam journalist Yiğit Karaahmet being released on bail after four months in custody, it's time once again to look at the bigger picture of the gutter sections of Turkish press.

Some amongst you will know that Karaahmet has been gaining newspaper space thanks to two letters he wrote to the Turkish press whilst in custody, where by using Tarkan as an example he took a justice system to task that would meter out more justice to "belly dancers than reporters" as he put it - ignoring the fact that one might be guilty and the other innocent.

In a recent article I looked in retrospect at the Turkish media's part in the large puzzle that is Tarkan, especially when trying to build a clear picture of the artist's drug-related arrest at the following four day custody bridging the end of February and the start of March.

The picture that formed then was one of a chaotic Turkish press churning out as many rumours as they could find for people to read.

Screencap of reportsHere's a snapshot: While papers like Zaman wrote that Tarkan wasn't handcuffed on the orders of Turkish Home Secretary Beşir Atalay - wait wasn't this arrest a government conspiracy against Tarkan? surely they'd have him strung up? - correspondents in Vatan, one of the most offending papers, hoped Tarkan would get well soon after suffering a so-called "panic attack" while in police custody (see left pic).

Hürriyet celebrity correspondent Cengiz Semercioğlu wrote that Tarkan would overcome this crisis as he had so many others, and criticises the police, but no where does he state any possibility that Tarkan might be innocent.

Zaman's reporting has been a complete fiasco, but Selahattin Duman's piece in Vatan in retrospect is hilarious. The man talks about every single rumour going, going in great depth to talk about panic attacks, and dogs called Barbie.

It's not a pretty picture.

The Bite of the Paparazzi

Tarkan arrives at Ataturk Airport from the MaldivesA personal picture I always have of the Turkish press and Tarkan are those constant images on the Turkish entertainment shows - called magazine shows in Turkey - of reporters aggressively following Tarkan around an airport and refusing to let up with their questions.

Sometimes Tarkan has played to this, smiling his signature smile and answering a barrage of questions, or sometimes he has acted like an unwilling interviewee, disappearing quickly - or trying to - into the ether.

There was one incident in 2007 where Tarkan's unwillingness to speak to reporters had one of them ask him if he thought he was immune to questions because he thought he was a Mafia don.

We know that a democracy needs an aggressive, audacious, uncompromising media, and the news media could learn something from the paparazzi, where it should collectively be a watchdog for the public interest.

But in a democracy there are checks to try and make all things equal, and those charged of a crime are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

In Turkey, however, it seems the gutter press is a law unto itself.

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