How do the media’s genes transform?

May 22, 2011, Sunday/ 18:45:00/ EKREM DUMANLI

What initiated the discussion was “Büyük Medyada Ergenekon Haberciliği” (Ergenekon Journalism in the Big Media), a recent book written by Alper Görmüş.

In his two-volume book, Görmüş, formerly editor-in-chief at the Nokta newsweekly, analyzes the current events and makes solid analyses. It is essential to take a look at this book in order to better understand the subconscious of the mainstream media. Mehmet Ali Birand touched upon the very gist of the issue when he made a confession in the aftermath of the publication of the book. Birand says: “Pro-coup thoughts were inserted into our genes without our knowing it.” He also makes some remarks in support of this bold statement.

In fact, this was not the first time that the pro-coup stance in the media has been discovered. It is a commonly known fact that the media has always been a supporter of the military coups that have taken place up to now. It has played this role in every stage of the coup process; sometimes it worked as an actor to prepare the ground for the coup and sometimes it worked to legitimize the illegal actions of the coup makers in the post-coup period.

Is the case different now? If you only consider some parts of the media, you would have to say no. This is actually why Görmüş is taking action to analyze the notion of the Ergenekon media. And he is absolutely right. Sadly, we have a media that deserves to be called the Ergenekon media. It is not possible to deny this considering everything that has happened. And sadly enough, the pro-coup thoughts are still alive in this country and part of the media works tirelessly towards the consolidation of this mindset. The Ergenekon case, Sledgehammer trials, investigations into unresolved murders, the Şemdinli raid, the Zirve massacre, the State Council attack and Hrant Dink’s murder … Consider these horrible incidents; you will notice the pro-junta actors relying on state power to create an environment of chaos as well as the media actors seeking to legitimize their actions with the hope to protect them from legal measures.

What is happening is obvious. Unfortunately, there are a number of incidents and examples that would confirm this grave picture. Maybe instead of analyzing these incidents case by case, we have to focus on the purpose of pro-coup genes. Unless these genes are removed properly, the media will not be able to get rid of this illness. I find it useful to make mention of a few of these reasons:

1- Being condescending towards the people for sympathy with the elites: The media, since its inception, has viewed itself as a privileged and elite group, assuming a mission to educate the people. This mindset, viewing the people as a group to be governed, holds that they are unable to make right decisions through the election ballots and further refers to the military as saviors. The media viewed it as the guard of the regime because the regime was under constant threat and the people were responsible for this. The media was considering that it would not manage to stop the assumed threat out of the ballot box; for this reason, they were seeking the interference of the military and its power. There are still some circles desiring this sort of guardianship. However, it now seems that antidemocratic hegemony is unable to persist anywhere in the world, including Turkey.

2- Fighting religion, combating religious beliefs: it is so sad that the structure calling itself as the central media has always had problems with the religious. Of course, from one perspective, religion and faith are a matter of individual preference. But when those who have control of the communication devices and assume a right to manipulate the people wage a war against religion, this becomes a social problem. A certain part of the media in Turkey is indifferent to and unaware of the religion itself, even worse, they think they are actually aware of it. It is only natural that the media viewing the faith of the people as a threat to the regime seeks external support and intervention by the military. Those who do not try to understand tend to impose their agenda. The media’s insistence on publishing false reports on alleged reactionary movements was a way to ensure that this imposition turns into a coup. For this reason, every coup attempt was supported by a perceived threat of reactionaryism. Unless the media reconcile themselves with the faiths and pay respect to the notions held sacred by the people, it will not be able to get rid of the pro-coup stance.

3- Inability to abandon ideological stereotypes: the Turkish media has been embedded into the system as a part of the modernization and Westernization processes. Sometimes it assumed a leading role in this process. At least it supposed it had such a role. There has always been a gap between the social values and the ideological preferences of the intellectuals. The majority of the intellectuals afraid of this clash preferred to promote the official ideology. Sadly, there remained no other way than seeking the protection of the armed forces when they concluded that the official ideology should be supported.

The media has always considered possible reactions from the military even when opposing the established order. Our intellectuals sought a remedy for neo-nationalism because of ideological alienation and a lack of an ideological grounding. Instead of seeking the truth and depicting it objectively, the media adopted a stance to preserve its domination and protect the system no matter what. This turned them blind and deaf. Unless it experiences a process of reawakening, the Turkish media will eventually display its tendency to support coup attempts.

4- Submission to power; failure to become fair: in fact, the media is a modern tool for seeking fairness and justice. It is safe haven for victims and those whose rights were breached. For this reason, it has to side with civil society rather than the status quo. The voice out of the summits of the ideas and thoughts reflects the desire and will of the individuals and maintains control over the state. However, the Turkish media has always sided with the powerful instead of the weak. The most powerful structure was the state and its most powerful unit was the armed forces. Some media organs extended support to the military out of fear and some others out of strategic considerations. Those who informed the military on how to facilitate a coup were actually seeking a suitable future for themselves in the post-coup period. Unless the civilian-military relations are not normalized, the media’s addiction with coup cannot be cured.


Is there a central media?

A part of the Turkish media insistently calls itself central media. In fact, this identification is inherently problematic. In countries with a strong tradition of liberalism, the relationship between the central media and advertisers raises concerns and doubts.

The objective of those who consider themselves as part of the central media or mainstream media is not necessarily the same with that of the mainstream media in other parts of the world. A substantial part of those who identify themselves as “mainstream” use this term to describe others. What does this mean? They declare others as peripheral, while they call themselves central. Those who put greater emphasis upon “center” seek to present the others as marginal.

There is consistency between the deliberate use of the notion of “center” in the media and in politics. For instance, some make public analyses indicating, for example, that because the center right has collapsed, this and that happened. What they mean by center right is the now defunct Motherland Party (ANAP) and the Democrat Party (DP). But did not the people take the parties away from the political stage? Let’s say you missed this reality; why are you unable to call a party that received 47 percent of the votes a center party? Should not we ask this with a reservation that the notion of center is inherently problematic? Is it not a magic trick to present a party as a marginal group by failing to describe it as a center party?

If the core aspect of being a center party is the ability to attract the support of the majority of the nation, then the center and the periphery should be redefined after each election. For instance, the oldest papers might have become marginal by now. Or a paper widely read by the people might have turned into the defender of a marginal ideology and become a stranger to public demands. Processes of change take the people from one point to another. From this perspective, the roles change, the responsibilities change and the preferences change. Those who fail to read this change will notice that they got on the wrong train when they arrive at the final destination.