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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Democracy of the Turkish Press [3]

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

Tarkan has always been wary of political activism or to speak up, as much he has been of using social web technologies to link up with his fans, and so in this respect helps to keep up the mist that surrounds the truth about him.

For example, it's been easy enough for conspiracy theorists to concoct that the drug arrest in March was the Turkish government's way of publicly victimising the artist for refusing to endorse them by appearing at a televised brunch - especially as the singer is campaigning with a major nature society against their energy plans.

One columnist even tried to suggest that the government needed a high profile arrest to show other countries they were cracking down hard on drug traffickers. Well, you can't get higher than Tarkan in Turkey, but would the government really sacrifice a celebrity that has done more to show Turkey in a positive light than any other?

So what if Tarkan is happy to endorse a soft drink giant (who'll drop him without even the needing to see a court report), but doesn't want to tell the public how to vote? What's wrong with that? It's not an arrestable offence.

And why would the government do something so transparently corrupt, when the far-right papers themselves - even the moderate rights ones - don't need to dirty their hands? They can just set their paparazzi dogs on Tarkan and slaughter him in their variety sections.

Of course sometimes those that write the glossy lie, come to believe it, and become victims of it. Celebrity journalists had been arrested alongside Tarkan, too, like Hürriyet entertainment correspondent Kubilay Keskin, but from the breadth of the press reports carrying Tarkan's name alone, you would scarcely know it.

Now that's hardly democratic.

Variety is the Spice of Life?

The Turkish newspapersWith the Turkish press and Tarkan, it's always seems to be text book yellow journalism.

Newspapers downplay any legitimate news in favour of eye-catching headlines to sell more copies, media portals deceive audiences with exaggerated features of news events, scandal-mongering and sensationalism, it's a veritable showcase of unprofessional practices by news media organisations and journalists in Turkey.

As it is, the real surprise won't be if Tarkan has actually succumbed to using drugs because of stress, in such an environment the surprise will be how he hasn't so far.

And Tarkan isn't the only celebrity to suffer from this disease. A role model for inspiring artists and the young to be different, Sezen Aksu - who had been a media darling for so long - has recently removed herself from the public eye in what some believe to be a protest (although the official line is she's focusing on future projects), while Turkish comedian Cem Yılmaz has complained at how the paparazzi have started to just make things up.

Faith needs to be restored in Turkish journalism. For that, there needs to be a reversal of roles. If the Turkish media had a little more backbone, and the Turkish gutter press had more of a professional conscience, we might see a more democratic Turkish press.

Or at least there needs to be an inducement to force the papers to take responsibility for their variety pages that hold more cuss that culture. Else we might get a picture where celebrities in Turkey begin to fight back.

Almost every celebrity in Turkey has problems with the paparazzi - and it's coming to the point where you just can't believe anything you read any more.

Should You Believe What You Read?

The paparazzi mixing with politics is not exclusive to Turkey, and neither is the scandal of rumours - false or not.

In France, the French presidency have struck out at the rumour mill, with French police launching a criminal inquiry to trace the bloggers behind rumours President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife were both having affairs, while the most famous US tabloid was up for America's top journalism award on its coverage of a presidential candidate's extra-marital affair.

Although the French rumours turned out to be untrue - yet they spread like wildfire across all sections of the press - the story in the National Enquirer on former US senator John Edwards extra-martial affair, who was running for the presidency at the time, turned out to be anything but.

Edwards denied it, and called it tabloid trash until the Enquirer published pictures of him with the child from the affair. The scrappy, self-proclaimed supermarket tabloid's investigation of Edwards single-handedly ended his run for the White House and led to a federal grand jury probe. It was nominated for a 2010 Pulitzer Prize, but lost out by what the Washington Times called the snobbery of the jury.

A historic first for the 2010 Pulitzer, however, was for online journalism, where ProPublica won a coveted Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting about controversial deaths at a New Orleans medical centre following Hurricane Katrina.

Such episodes not only show how public interest is captured by yellow journalism, despite the hard efforts of the "white shoe" media establishment to ignore it, but that online journalism - and bloggers - are being taken more seriously than ever.

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