SCANDAL AT WAN-IFRA / WEF CONGRESS IN HYDERABAD

Today's Zaman
Dec 4 2009
Turkey

Hyderabad -- I spent the last three days in Hyderabad, India, trying
to talk some sense into the entire leadership of the World Association
of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA) and World Editors Forum (WEF).

The reason was that due to a scandal a crisis erupted at the
annual WAN-IFRA and WEF congress, the largest organization of media
proprietors and editors, as some media groups walked out in protest
and returned home.

As widely reported by the Turkish media, the reason was found in part
of the group's annual statement about freedom of the press around
the globe, the part on the state of press freedom in Turkey.

It became immediately obvious that the inclusion of Turkey in the group
of five most restrictive countries (which were condemned for violating
press freedom) as well as the almost exclusive focus on the tax evasion
case against the Dogan Media Group was a result of ill-informed,
superficial, biased and sloppy work done by the organization.

The WEF, which is the flank of the organization representing editors
and journalists and not owners, had unethically and unusually invited
the daughter of the owner of Dogan to make a presentation at its
board meeting in Hyderabad, and was entirely indifferent to non-Dogan
affiliated editors and journalists. This was a scandal.

I contacted, constantly, the leaders and managers of the organization
over the past few days, pointing out the fact that the manner in
which the Dogan case was treated would alienate the rest of the
Turkish media and leave WAN-IFRA and WEF alone with one group,
causing profound problems of credibility and representation for the
organization in the future.

The entire leadership remained, at times in a patronizing manner,
indifferent to the dissenting views conveyed to them. The result
became a total disrespect for the reasonable objections voiced. Their
position remained unchanged.

For the record, I would like to share with the readers, what I, in
despair, wrote to them, before I also left Hyderabad. It is as follows:

"As I understand, the inclusion of the recent tax evasion case in the
latest WAN- IFRA annual statement as a 'major threat to press freedom'
caused, among the Turkish members [other than those affiliated with
Dogan] of WAN-IFRA, widespread discontent and led to a joint, written
protest. I, too, felt rather disturbed.

"As a journalist for over 30 years, and as an independent ombudsman
in the Turkish media landscape for over a decade, until now a keen
supporter of WEF as a pluralistic, fair and credible platform in
the international scene, please allow me make a few comments about
the case.

"I find the perspective with which WAN-IFRA approaches the Turkish
government vs. Dogan Media tax evasion case partial; its judgment
utterly simplistic and its wording problematic. This is a case whose
arrival has been rather inevitable, in which there are no innocent
parts, and no 'pure' victims.

"As outside observers, it must have seemed clear to you, that while
the Turkish state, governments and parliaments have been known to
keep the leash on Turkish media with various methods, Turkey's media
proprietors have been notoriously on the record as cutting secret or
open deals with circles of power, casting alliances with undemocratic
elements, with state or non-state actors, often defying the law in
order to crash their rivals and exercise irregularities to expand
their businesses beyond the limits of law.

"There are various elements missing in the WAN-IFRA 2009 statement
about Turkey. While I agree that the quantity of cases filed against
journalists should indeed cause increased concern, I would have
wished to see firm demands for amendments to various laws in Turkey,
laws that continue to curb freedom of expression both in the media
and the Internet.

"I would also have wished to see WAN-IFRA note, with increasing
satisfaction, that despite certain limitations, Turkish journalists,
those who write columns in particular, continue to expand the domain
of free speech, boldly challenging and breaking all taboos, uncovering
organized crime disguised as political engineering.

"Indeed, from that lucid perspective, the Turkish press enjoys and
practices enormous freedom, unprecedented in republican history. This
includes Dogan outlets, too.

"But, sadly, the case of tax evasion against Dogan has come to the
fore as 'the case' of a threat to press freedom, overshadowing the
legal limitations to our work I mentioned above, and I find it deeply
troubling.

"My concern is the fact that not the full picture, but only a selected
part of it has been highlighted. This may be misleading for our
international colleagues, it may as well damage the credibility of
WAN-IFRA in the eyes and minds of colleagues in Turkey.

"It is a complex case.

"If you ask any headhunter of international reputation what the most
troubled sector in Turkey is, the unanimous answer you will receive
will be: the media. It has remained a battlefield for various political
powers, and greedy, ruthless media barons, who fought against media
regulation by using their media power as weapon. A 'jungle mentality'
prevailed. It has, at times, brought good journalism to the brink
of extinction.

"It is well known that Mr. Aydın Dogan, through his media empire,
controls around 65 percent of ad revenues in Turkey. By any decent
democratic standards, it is unacceptable. Mr. Dogan has been known
to be constantly on the move, expanding his empire by any means
necessary. He set ugly patterns in which he cut deals with weak
coalitions during the '90s in his favor and used dirty methods to
weaken his rivals' competitive power and to destroy their media
outlets.

"Depending on whether his demands were met or not met, he hired and
fired colleagues and encouraged character assassinations, solely
to further increase his personal business interests. The intent was
a monopoly.

"Mr. Dogan was, too, in the lead to cleanse all trade union activity
and affiliation from his media companies, and those who argued
otherwise were fired arbitrarily.

"Mr. Dogan also fired a number of columnists -- including an
independent news ombudsman -- all of whom wished to remain loyal to
the principles of journalism, in order to serve public interests,
rather than the interests of a greedy owner.

"There is enough material and testimony to prove how Mr. Dogan,
for an overwhelming segment of Turkey's decent press corps, came to
symbolize the path that led to the end of editorial independency,
a key to credible journalism in the service of democracy. He is seen
as the stumbling block, rather than supporter, of a pluralistic,
diverse, free media sector, which would operate lawfully, and fairly.

"Any random choice and arbitrary reading of translated material --
books, interviews with other media owners and journalists -- would
prove the case.

"I would particularly recommend the recent, very popular books by Mr.

Emin CölaÅ~_an -- a columnist known for his fiercely critical views of
the current government -- who was fired because of his opinions. In his
two consecutive books he describes in detail all the 'shady dealings'
of Mr. Dogan with the government, deputies and other figures of power,
for sheer business interests.

"It is my conviction, that Mr. Dogan wished to continue the same
pattern with the current government, and when his demands were not met
he used his media power as a weapon against it, since approximately
2004 until very recently. A study of his influential print and TV
outlets in this period would prove easily of the polluted journalism
he promoted.

"When journalists and opinion makers in other media were targeted --
such as the late Hrant Dink, assassinated by nationalist thugs --
and many had to live with body guards, the Dogan family remained
totally indifferent. Their concept of press freedom and free speech
was apparently limited to the ownership interests.

"Dogan flagship Hurriyet is the paper solely responsible for the
deadly witch hunt against Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who had to
leave the country because Hurriyet launched a campaign against him
for his views about Kurds and Armenians slaughtered in Anatolia.

"There are many examples like these.

"In short, the record of Dogan on press freedom is not that bright.

"I am among those writers in Turkey who say that a corrupt press can
not credibly uncover corruption in any democracy. A corrupt media,
in fact, undermines democracy. The brief history of Turkey's media
owners has shown us time and again that this view is very valid.

"My concern, therefore, differs in what is said in the WAN-IFRA
statement: I demand that legislation is amended in order to stop
corruption and the utilization of media for interests other than
decent journalism.

"Unfortunately, I note with sadness that the current WEF board member
from Turkey, as well as other colleagues on the payroll of Dogan,
prefer to present this case in a way which would indicate that media
companies should be enjoying impunity from tax evasion. It is to be
noted with dismay that WEF lets itself be manipulated this way.

"We all know that media companies are to be treated as any other
company, and also be subject to coverage in the media. The way Dogan
presents the case internationally is also an example of a media group
abusing its power.

"This case is a giant symptom of a malady in Turkish media. Attempts
to deal with irregularity, unlawful behavior and corruption must be
much more carefully monitored, with respect to the judiciary and with
the root causes of this malady in mind.

"The root causes of the tax evasion case, as well as the case of
irregularity in stocks and print paper imports filed against Dogan must
be sought and highlighted. This is, I believe, the duty of WAN-IFRA,
which must not be fearful of being critical of its members who may act
out of law and ethics. It is imperative, too, that WAN-IFRA exercise
great caution about legal processes, with wisdom on the complexities
they may present.

"It should also be noted that both the EU Progress Report and the
latest resolution presented to the European Parliament -- prepared
by Ms. Ria Oomen-Ruijten -- emphasize the issues of abuse of power
by media owners and the need for a new, clear legislation on several
fields. They cover property concentration, foreign investments and
shares, and job security not to mention articles such as 301 and the
infamous Internet Law.

"There are various points which should be brought to your attention:
Media proprietors in Turkey must be banned from entering public
tenders, in order to end 'carrot and stick' relations between media
companies and governments. In order to strengthen pluralism and fair
competition in Turkish media sector, the set of recommendations by
the Council of Europe (No. [R. 99] 1) titled 'Measures to Promote
Media Pluralism' (dated Jan. 19, 1999) must be brought to and kept
in constant attention for the Turkish government and Parliament.

Cross-ownership must be either banned or severely restricted. The
Turkish Parliament without delay must pass a Trade Union Law. The
market share for foreign actors in the Audiovisual segment must
be raised from approximately 25 percent (currently) to at least
51 percent.

"We need a clean, bold, diverse and independent media in Turkey,
a country in a dynamic transformation toward a full-scale democracy.

"We shall struggle for legal guarantees of our freedom, we will
challenge restrictive power circles, we will defy attempts at
censorship, we will go on breaking taboos and encourage wide public
debate, we will fight for ethical behavior; but in order to be able
to do all that we have to fight corruption in the media, which is
the primary cause for self-censorship and abuse of media power in
today's Turkey, more than anything else.

"These thoughts may be of use as addendum to your statement, because
they reflect a widespread belief among Turkish journalists, which also
explains the fact that almost none of them has showed any solidarity
with the group in question."

Yavuz Baydar was a former president of the International Organization
of News Ombudsmen (ONO).