Fourth Emerging Power in the Middle East:
Redefining the Turkish Media's Role & Future
The Turkish Parliament enlarged the view and
power of the Turkish Media
Conference - April 2, 200
by Prof. Edward FOSTER
A conference titled as, "The Fourth Emerging Power in the
Middle East: Redefining the Turkish Media`s
Role & Future" by Nuri M. ÇOLAKOGLU,
was organized by Light Millennium, a not-for-
profit Organization in tandem with the Stevens
Institude of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey
on April 2, 2004.
Being an expert in both national and international media for
almost forty years, Çolakoglu gave a
detailed speech enlightening the audience about
the recent developments in Turkey and the role,
future and significance of Turkish Media in
the Middle East.
1. Q: We are on the initiative that we are on the way
of EU so everything is pulled back. If everything
is really pink and rosy and AKP is as sincere as they
claim why do you think dark green Islam is moving north?
Do you think AKP has anything to do with that?
Mr. Çolakoglu: First of all, I wasn't trying
to draw any pink and rosy picture. Secondly, I agree
with you that there are some important doubts about
AKP. AKP is not a united party because
it has a very short history just like Anavatan Party, which was created by bringing together
very quickly different factions and groups under the
same room. We have to see which way they are going.
Neither Islamic political movements, nor any other political
movements can be put under one single flank. There are
different tones from dark green to light green, from
conservative to radical Islam, political Islam, and
don't think the bombings in Istanbul have anything to
do with AKP because AKP was the one who
was very badly hit because of the bombings. They have
been trying to correct their standing and they really
pulled for it and apprehension of those culprits also
is a positive thing in Turkey. They quickly investigated
both the Masonic bombing and the bombing of the
two synagogues in Istanbul. Those people involved in
the incidents have been caught and now the public knows
everything in detail. They found who were behind it,
who were involved or how the connections developed.
I think that the Turkish police is getting more and
more keen on these groups. Because for a long time after
the coup of 1980 when the military government, in order
to cope with the growing left militancy and the rise
of the communism in Turkey, tried to introduce Islam
to the Turkish political life. They even put a clause
in the constitution which made religious education in
the high school as a compulsory practice. It is this
tendency which we still try to fight to wind back.
those circumstances nobody can be sure of anybody's
intentions unless you are in the brain of that person.
All you have to do is "watch". In my presentation,
I refrained from passing verdicts or judgments but citing
the facts because I believe in the intelligence of people
who listen. They can put those facts together and drive
their own conclusions. I have respect for everybody's
conclusion and it is normal to have different ideas.
Q: AKP government made more appointments with TRT
in one year than the previous governments made in three
years. How do you think this affected the independent
media and why did AKP do this?
Çolakoglu: TRT has always been the
hunting ground of the governments. It is hard to understand
why governments are so keen about trying to get the
hands on TRT when its viewership is dipping below
5%. No matter what you do on TRT your voice only
reaches to 4-5%, a very irrelevant fraction of people.
But, yes the governments still want to see themselves
on TV every night.
is a good story about our beloved former President Suleyman
Demirel. Every night when he comes home around 8:00
pm, he tells her wife "Turn on the TV, so that
we can see what the man has said today." He
was talking about himself. We will have to see what
AKP will do with the radio and TV they will end
up with. Are we going to see more Islamic colors in
TV or are we going to practice more of government propaganda?
Most probably we will see more ministers on TRT.
It may not be right, but it's going to take some time
to get those things right.
they love to watch themselves in TV, I don't believe
in the power of media to that extent. Had the media
had such a power of converting societies or regulating
the world, we would have probably never have seen the
changes that we saw in the Soviet Union. The people
in the Soviet Union were bombarded, almost for seventy
five years, with the same slogan, and ideology over
radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, cinemas and billboards.
Then, one day somebody left the door ajar and in one
night everything changed.
though media has no power to make people to take major
turn around, it can be very powerful if their message
has already been something in the minds, in the hearts
and in the lives of the public. If you are really addressing
what people are thinking and their looking for a way
then you can get the masses going and move the people
around. This was the case in Turkey on 28 February in
1997. People had very strong doubts about where the
ruling government of Erbakan and Ciller were taking
Turkey to. At that moment, the media started a campaign
"turn the lights off for a minute",
which got enormous response in Turkey and it started
a chain reaction which brought the government down within
Q: AKP took over Uzan Holding, Star
newspaper and TV stations because they owe money to
the government. They took Uzan's media operations as
well as management of the editorial. Did they do it
to avoid the criticisms about AKP and how this
Çolakoglu: All of you know that Uzan Group had robbed Turkey around $8.5 billion. So whichever government
is in place, it has a right to confiscate whatever they
can find in order to get back the money that has been
stolen from the people. Not only their media operations
but also telephone, banking, and other assets had to
be confiscated in order to pay back these amounts.
in Uzan Group,
it looks like it turns into a big crime. All the backups
and the complicated operations showed that they have
been preplanned and very well premeditated. For the
ones who don't know Uzan Group, they had launched the very first private TV channel in Turkey,
Then, they introduced the Star newspaper.
At last they launched the political party named, Genc
Party, in 2002. And this party fought the elections
on a platform which was totally anti- US, anti-Europe,
and anti-solution to Cyprus. However, they managed to
take the votes of a large chunk of conservative nationalists
in Turkey. They wound up with 7.5% using all the means
of their media operations. When the whole event broke
out, they lost ground and their position quite dramatically
in the last elections.
4. Q: As you have mentioned Turkish media is concentrated
in few hands. How does it affect the democratization
when a group controls %40 of media? Could they use that
advantage to manipulate the public's opinion to their
Çolakoglu: Such a concentration is not a
reasonable situation and we should do something about
it, but what should be done is another problem. How
can we make the other newspapers sell? Couple of distribution
networks distributes all papers and there is no way
of stopping anybody's distribution in Turkey. It has
been tried, but that didn't work. Because there are
various outlets of distribution, it is working. Therefore,
the thing to fight for is not only concentration of
media but also establishing editorial integrity. Separating
the publisher from intervening into the editorial content
is not the case in Turkey any more. It's always the
owners who set the policies of the newspapers who were
journalists for a long time. As I've mentioned before,
in the second phase when the big business came into
interest, everything changed.
Q: Majority of the Turkish media has been caught unprepared
to the victory of AKP and most of them were against
them. What happened, why couldn't they see that AKP
Çolakoglu: Until November 2002, Turkish media
was totally against AKP, and they were publishing lots
of criticism. All the campaigns against AKP did
not stop them; in fact maybe it fueled AKP's coming
into power. As seen in that example media doesn't really
have strong muscles in Turkey. But I don't think that
media was able to predict AKP's coming. They just didn't
want to see, accept, or report it, because that was
against their beliefs. They had better relations with
the ongoing parties; however; those relations didn't
stay well after they lost their power.
we want to change things in Turkey we have to create
a credible alternative; clean, respectable, secular
alternative. But unfortunately we don't see such an
attempt. When you look at the political map in Turkey
within 24 parties, 20 of them are secular. Because they
are fighting against each other, they can't unite on
one single party and they perish very easily.
Q: Turkey is known with its corrupt democracy, politicians,
which are also believed to extend beneficially corrupt
newspapers. Could you comment on that please?
Çolakoglu: Turkey really needs to clean up
the stables. AKP is getting %42 of the votes
not because people want to see an Islamic party in power,
but they don't want to see a corrupt party in power.
When we look at the voting process in Turkey, we see
that the people vote by negative selection. In Turkey
there are not more than %20 committed electors. For
the rest, the people look at all the parties in race,
first decide whom they don't want to vote for, and they
come up with a short list. Then they evaluate who is
going to harm them less, and they vote for that party.
Since 1980, in every election the leading party changed.
In 1987 it was ANAP, in 1991 it was DYP,
in 1995 it was Refah Party, and
then the Ecevit government DSP.
The Turkish electors are well wishing, and they give
every party a chance. When a party doesn't succeed,
they knock them off. This is the best thing about the
electors in our country.
7. Q: What role should media play in Turkey?
Is there a Turkish interest if there is what is it?
Especially with the internalization of ownership, how
the media is going to secure Turkish interest?
Çolakoglu: In Turkey people know the policy
of newspapers they are reading and because it is a voluntary
relationship, people tend to follow the newspapers whose
policies they like. So people's thoughts probably fluctuate
along with the editors of those newspapers.
or doesn't go into a newspaper, changes. But I believe
that there should be universal criteria about it. As the
chairman of Turkish Broadcasters Association, at
which all the leading channels are members with my colleagues;
we are trying to bring a set of specific criterion in
broadcasting in Turkey. TV usage has changed dramatically
in Turkey within 5 years. There are no horrifying, bloody
scenes anymore thanks to our persuasions. We don't have
much foreign capital in media. CNN-Turk which is %25 Time Warner, %27 Dogan Group is created as a Turkish channel. Additionally, there is CNBC-e
which is a franchise agreement and channels like MTV
and Discovery that are paid for and come on screen
to left: Nuri M. ÇOLAKOGLU, Prof. Edward FOSTER,
Erhan BERBER, M.D., and
Bircan ÜNVER after the conference at the Kidde
lecture hall of the Stevens Institute of
Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Special thanks to Hande Ilsever and Gokce Ilsever for
Also special thanks to Ayça Bahçe.
Introductory by Prof. Edward Foster--
The Turkish Parliament enlarged the view and
power of the Turkish Media
Release of the conference - April 10, 2004
- Turkish media executive Çolakoglu to speak
--Announcement of the conference by Light Millennium:
March 3, 2004
Light Millennium, April 2004, New York.