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Monday, May 03, 2010

The Democracy of the Turkish Press [5]

By Kaya Turan reporting from Rochester, UK

With the fast pace of our times thanks to the second generation of the web and its social technologies, the way we get our news has changed to an extent. The balance of power over information - traditionally in the hands of media moguls - has suddenly been tagged by the ordinary public with their Facebook posts and tweets.

It's no secret at this point that Twitter is a medium for breaking news. If reporters want to know what is news at the moment, they go to check out news in real time, and what is buzzing on Twitter.

New technologies have been incorporated into news sites, with sections for comments, tweets and Facebook likes, meaning that the way we consume news has become more interactive and democratic, as we get a public response in almost real time.

Screencap of Sude Bilge Demir's tweetsWith Tarkan so distanced from the traditional news sources in his parents' home nation, Tarkan fans scourge the tweets of anyone that might be in the know, for some news or detail of a new album as the tension rises. If they hear a line of gossip, they try to tweet the source for confirmation. Although names often linked with Tarkan probably know to keep silent, female music producer Sude Bilge Demir, for example, recently tweeted that Tarkan's new album was coming soon, and that it was "an extraordinary piece of work" (see left pic).

If only Tarkan could do like Eminem and tweet now and again even if to just update fans on the process of a new album, it would be something. It is a shame he hasn't caught the Twitter bug. It would at least be a place fans could go for confirmation of the gossip in the Turkish press that will inevitably spring up about the celebrity A-lister.

Although some argue that social media can be a legitimate venue for good information, could this balance of power adversely affect the quality of the news? Some would argue that now with such a high level of non-journalistic interactivity, the quality of news will go down, rather than go up.

Having access to public tweets - although not to Tarkan's official tweets which would have helped - didn't help the quality of the reports that came out about Tarkan during the drug crisis. The actual truth of the matter is that we don't know the truth of the matter yet.

Tarkan's lawyer has released two press statements asking for everyone to wait for the due process of the law, and declaring Tarkan's complete innocence, but the Turkish press (not simply celebrity portals) still continue to churn out reports that jail-time looms large for the singer.

Catching the Tarkan Bug

There is no doubt that Tarkan is a bug in the ear of the Turkish press that continues to buzz.

Looking at if from the outside, it will seem strange as to just why Tarkan is given such a hard time by the Turkish press. However, using the analogy of the centuries long internal struggle of the East-West divide in Turkey might give some of us not-in-the-know an idea as to what Tarkan symbolises for some in the region.

Tarkan is the epitome of an East-West harmonisation - although he has failed to capture that balance in recent years, and in doing so has polarised those that advocate either one or the other. The singer is the antithesis to Rudyard Kipling's "Never the twain shall meet", because in him, his fans would passionately implore, they meet with a beautiful bang.

The drug crisis has seen his critics say that this is a prime example of Turkey catching the ills of the West. His advocates on the other hand say, is Turkey Iran? Has Turkey gone to the Arabs? What would the country's secular founder say?

And whatever you might say of Atatürk, he was a leader that at least knew what he was talking about during a time most of his other counterparts were speaking gibberish.

For the man that said "peace at home, peace in the world" knew democracy only works when we get the bigger picture.

So, with all things being equal in this final part of this serial, it's time to take a look at the other side of the Turkish press and at some voices of reason during the media blitzkrieg after Tarkan's detainment.

Although when we realise that such voices are in the minority in Turkey, all support for the singer comes off sounding more like voices of dissent.

In Tarkan's Defence

When the news hit that Tarkan was taken in for questioning by police after a six month undercover anti-drug sting in the first half of 2010, some people in the Turkish media were willing to give the singer the benefit of the doubt.

Turkish journalist, columnist and documentarian Can Dündar is one of the more well-known voices - to the point of almost seeming biased, however. Dündar gave Tarkan's lawyer airtime to air his grievances over the falsified news reports about Tarkan in the press, but giving the lawyer almost free reign without much questioning had attracted scorn from Tarkan's critics.

On the flip side, journalist Dündar had criticised his colleagues for effectively "handcuffing" Tarkan before the artist had even been convicted of any crime, while also stressing his belief that the singer would overcome this crisis as he had previous media-driven scandals.

Screencap of reportsIn other examples, two journalists writing for Turkish paper Vatan also picked up the baton to defend Tarkan during the March crisis, standing at two ends of the spectrum of those speaking in his defence. It ranged from those arguing - like Dündar - to wait for due process, to those more personal pleas for Tarkan (see left pic).

Vatan correspondent Can Ataklı is a voice that argued those who were criticising the "soft treatment" of Tarkan by the police were wrong.

"For the police to handle Tarkan roughly before any charge of any crime would have been wrong, and they did the right thing," Ataklı declared. He followed that up in another post where he labelled critics trying to make an example out of Tarkan to show the powers-that-be were "getting down to business" on the issue of drugs, were tricking the public "in the name of law and order" - because the real criminals weren't being tackled.

Meanwhile, rather than appealing to common sense and better politics, Vatan writer Leyla Umar had appealed to the heart in her defence of Tarkan, preferring to reminisce about the singer like a mother does fondly of her son.

Umar explained how she had first heard of Tarkan in the early Nineties when her grandchild was constantly singing his "Şıkıdım" song (A-acayipsin, 1994), and that "her close friend" the late music mogul Ahmet Ertegün had been in Turkey on one of his regular visits during that time.

Although Umar's memories seem a little skewed - for example she claims another Turkish-American music producer Arif Mardin had set up a music company with Ertegün when he first started out, when in fact Ertegün had given Mardin his big break by hiring him as an assistant after Atlantic Records had been formed - her post makes for rosy reading if you like taking a uncertain trip down memory lane with someone else's sat-nav.

If we can believe what Umar writes, she remembers Ertegün meeting Tarkan after coming on one of his customary holiday trips to Turkey to do a round of the jazz clubs in Istanbul. On hearing Tarkan singing jazz songs at some small bar (although whether he'd be singing in a jazz joint after releasing A-acayipsin is a bit dubious), Umar claims Ertegün took them to listen to Tarkan proclaiming that he would one day be world famous. That moment, Umar says, led to Tarkan going to New York in the mid-Nineties - and well, the rest, as they say, was history.

Umar then goes on to complain how Tarkan had become a "wayward son" as his fame rose, with him foregoing on his promise to "always call on her" - but she expressed that after news of his police custody she realised she still loves Tarkan for all his mistakes, calling for his fans to rally round and not give up on him during his difficult time.

Democratic Processes

Arguably, it's Umar's type of defence that the most conservative of Tarkan's critics have picked up on. Supporting Tarkan to get through his troubles, and expressing that he should be supported is all well and good, say some in the media, but should any drug addiction be forgiven - or even worse overlooked - because he is a source of national pride for the country?

Are we saying it's okay to be a drug user if we're in a position like Tarkan?

Screencap of reportsThe singer's critics - all of whom believe without a shadow of a doubt the man is a cocaine sniffer - also fall into a wide spectrum, ranging from those well-meaning columnists praying Tarkan gets back on track, while others throw their slings and arrows like lesser noble men (see left pic).

As some like Sabah correspondent Yüksel Aytuğ (going on the false news reports that Tarkan had "confessed" to taking drugs) urged the singer in the first few days of March to pick himself up, Neslihan Acu hung the singer up to dry in her piece "Tarkan and the Turkish-type Megastar".

Confessing that Tarkan's music doesn't move her at all, and there is no song of his etched into her memory - apart from him images of him shaking his belly - she does concede however to his good looks, before adding that his megarstardom, as with his cocaine abuse, is simply the desire to imitate the West.

To us mainstream folks it will seem far fetched, but it is a big fear in Turkey. The desire to imitate the West has historical significance, it led to the Ottoman Empire's darkest days and to its ultimate downfall.

To Tarkan's most conservative critics that is what the singer signifies, the downfall of the status quo, and it is this that some say fuels the drive to push so much negative publicity about one of their own, who has ironically done so much to raise the profile of their nation.

An undemocratic press simply adds fuel to the fire, on what the conservative pap reporters in Turkey constantly declare to be Tarkan's funeral pyre.

But its one out of which the singer keeps rising.

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