It is an unquestionable fact that unions provide better working conditions and more job security for the media. The media becomes more independent and impartial in their reporting as a result of unionism.
Before the 1980 coup, the Turkish media was in a better state as regards to, among other things, job security since journalists had the right to be members of a union.
With the restrictive nature of the 1982 Constitution still in place, however, the Turkish media has long been deprived of many of the benefits that having a union can provide. It has also failed to meet some fundamental principles of journalism in respect to the truth and the public's right to information as a result of an absence of a code of ethics that all members of the Turkish media should abide by. There is no mechanism that will deter the Turkish media from violating the basic ethical rules that journalists need to respect.
The Turkish media has become extremely fragile and open to the exploitation of both the Turkish military and elected governments, as well as the media owners who, most of the time, have used their media ownership to gain state contracts. Some journalists, powerful yet small in number, willingly went along with their bosses in their unethical usage of media ownership. Those journalists made millions of dollars out of the questionable relationship that they established with their media owners.
Most members of the media, however, are forced to be the mouthpiece of the military, governments or their owners, writing stories that they do not necessarily agree with out of the fear that they will lose their jobs.
There are many roadblocks before Turkish journalists can do their jobs professionally and properly in line with their basic duty of meeting the public's right to information.
Among those roadblocks are: The Turkish military's continuation of a smear campaign against members of the media who are critical of this institution's privileged status, the existence of an outdated law that describes almost everything in the context of a state secret, the prevention of the media from obtaining accurate information, the pressures exerted by the political authorities to silence the media over issues related to wrongdoings of the executive and the exploitation of the existing shortcomings in laws that do not provide media freedom. These are among the many obstacles that hang over the Turkish media like the Sword of Damocles.
On the other hand, some members of the media have a militarist mindset, resisting democracy and preventing the media from getting organized to obtain their basic rights through, for example, the establishment of a union. Meanwhile, some others are acting with their ideological instincts, pretending to be social democrats and opposing the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) even if many of those policies have a democracy-advancing nature.
We have been witnessing several media associations taking to the streets lately in protest of the arrest of some of their colleagues over charges of taking part in alleged military coup plots to unseat the government. But I have never witnessed those same media associations uniting their forces to regain the media's right for a union, taken away from us 30 years ago by a military dictated constitution. These media organizations have not denounced the military's campaign of intimidation launched against those journalists writing stories critical of military's role in politics. These events underline a double standard existing within the
Turkish media, preventing it from taking a unified stance in meeting the basic principles of journalism.
Ironically, it was a government minister who stressed that the core problem of the Turkish media is the absence of a union through which journalists' basic rights of freedom can be ensured.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç participated in a TV program on May 8, answering questions from a group of journalists. It was him, not the journalists present at the program, who brought onto the agenda what he described as the real problem of Turkish media, which he said was the absence of the media's right to a union.
“Media members do not have job security. They do not have the right to be part of a union. … Members of the media should also display a determination against their bosses in obtaining their rights,” Arınç was saying.
Highly polarized and divided among themselves, the Turkish media is neither expected to unite its forces in the foreseeable future to retake the rights seized 30 years ago after a military takeover, nor it will further expand these rights.