Press capture in Turkey – and beyond

Press capture in Turkey – and beyond

The change of media ownership in Turkey having severe implications for the role of media and journalistic values

Understanding the economic climate and business model under which media operate is an obvious first step to promoting media independence. Yet often, and for good reasons, democracy promotion agencies focus on authoritarian state practices when analysing limitations on press freedom rather than on how news organizations may themselves be structurally compromised. Even then, it should come as no surprise that media compromise their own mandate (to hold power accountable), by using their influence to leverage profit in non-press economic spheres.

How this happens and the consequences of state-media collusion are by no means straightforward, according to a new study published by the Washington-based Center for Media Assistance (CIMA). The paper entitled “Captured News Media, The Case of Turkey” also suggests that media organisations can all too often overstep their reach. “The first Turkish newspaper I worked for in 1989 survived on a front-page ad from the state mining bank Etibank. The paper collapsed when that ad was withdrawn to show government displeasure with the parent group’s editorial policy. By 1998 the parent group’s proprietor had became co-owner of the bank itself,” writes Andrew Finkel, the author of the report. The codicil to this account is that in 2000 the paper was taken into public ownership after the bank collapsed with nearly a billion dollar’s worth of debt. Since then the media group has been transferred to business groups close to the government, most recently to the consortium of contractors building Istanbul’s third airport.

The paper documents that over two decades, other newspapers and media groups have changed hands in equally dramatic circumstances, and  that ownership has gone from being an effective tool for enriching their proprietors into becoming an actual burden. Media ownership has devolved into becoming an unwanted tax on those who already benefit from doing business with the state.

This has important implications for news itself.

Even corrupted news organizations acquire a crooked policemen’s instinct of when to behave and when to bend the rules, in order to maintain influence. For media to ignore its own credibility means ultimately to abdicate not just its responsibility but the power it hopes to wield. This has occurred in Turkey. The result is a degradation of information itself – what Finkel, describes as a “Midas touch syndrome.” The government’s desire for control is ultimately too successful and ends up destroying the value of media on which it relies.

The challenge Finkel considers is how to repair so damaged a national press and how to restore journalism as a public good. The full report is available here.

Media Integrity
Media Ownership and Finances