Zipped-Lips in Turkey’s Media

Associated Press  Turkish TV presenter Banu Guven in 2004.
Associated Press Turkish TV presenter Banu Guven in 2004.

By Ayla Albayrak

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Istanbul this weekend, rapped Turkey’s government for suppressing press freedoms. She had in mind the jailing of reporters and closure of internet websites.

Less talked about is what many Turkish journalists describe as growing self-censorship exercised by media outlets in Turkey and by the business groups that own them. Take the case of Banu Guven, one of Turkey’s best-known television presenters.

Last week Ms. Guven sent an open letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing him of promoting a culture of self-censorship in Turkey’s media, after she herself was fired by independent broadcaster NTV. Her letter swept through Turkish social media networks.

“If you do not hold yourself directly responsible about the dark scene for us reporters,” Ms. Guven wrote to Mr. Erdogan on her personal website, “maybe it would be a good start to assess why this perception prevails and what has gone wrong.”

Ms. Guven, an opinionated journalist in her early 40s, had been at NTV for 14 years. She was one of the most — if not the most — popular personality the channel had. On her nightly show, Banu Guven Plus (Banu Guven Ile Arti), she interviewed experts, academics and politicians about current events, often on controversial issues.

NTV said in a statement Monday that Ms. Guven was fired because there was no suitable program format for her in the next season. The channel also rejected her accusation that it had bent to pressure from the government on stories and guest selection, and that it was guilty of self-censorship.

“Until today, we have not faced requests from the government or any political party to work with this or that person,” Cem Aydin, managing director NTV owner the Dogus Group, wrote in Monday’s statement.

Ms. Guven’s last programs focused on Turkey’s Kurdish problem, arguably the country’s most sensitive issue and the subject of close to three decades of armed struggle between Kurdish minority rebels and the Turkish state. Tens of thousands of Kurds have died, and recently tensions have risen again, with Mr. Erdogan taking a strong stand against Kurdish demands.

In early June, Ms. Guven’s program infuriated Turkish nationalists after Vedat Turkali, a novelist and playwright, spoke favorably of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or (PKK), on air. He said Mr. Ocalan should be interviewed in the program, too.

The channel also turned down Ms. Guven’s request to interview Leyla Zana, the most controversial Kurdish politician in Turkey. She saw this as an act of self-censorship and was fired soon afterwards.

NTV isn’t known as one of Turkey’s slavishly pro-government channels — but it seems to have lost any appetite for controversy. In his statement Monday, Dogus Group Aydin said that after the Turkali interview NTV had received threats to burn down its building.

NTV was changing, Mr. Aydin said, to bring more “real experts” to the screen and to avoid conflicting perceptions of the channel. “NTV is a channel which is viewed as close to the opposition by to those trying to be close to the government; pro-government by the opposition; pro-Kurdish by Turkish nationalists; and nationalist by the Kurds,” the statement read, adding that this had become “tiring and wearisome.”

Whatever the cause, Ms. Guven’s firing has fed into a widening perception that media freedoms in Turkey are getting weaker. Last year, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders ranked Turkey 138th in media freedom out of 178 countries — down from the 98th place in 2005.

“(This problem) deserves attention from citizens, from lawyers, because it seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances that Turkey has made,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised interview Saturday.

via Zipped-Lips in Turkey’s Media – Emerging Europe Real Time – WSJ.