28 Ağustos 2010 Cumartesi

A Media Documentary: We're Fired Our People, Don't Forget Us

“Kovulduk Ey Halkım Unutma Bizi (We’re Fired Our People Don’t Forget Us)” is a best-seller book written by famous Kemalist journalist Emin Çölaşan[1] in the year 2007. The book is published from Bilgi Yayınevi and has made 74 prints until now, an extraordinary success for Turkey where book selling and reading percentage is very low among common people. Emin Çölaşan, as being one the most famous and controversial columnist and writer in the country, again achieved to create sensation by his book that gives inside information about government-media relations in Turkey, Doğan Media Company and especially about Hürriyet newspaper[2], its boss Aydın Doğan and its editor-in-chief Ertuğrul Özkök. We know that few months before the publication of his book, Çölaşan was fired from his newspaper Hürriyet with the pretext of “being so harsh and impolite in his writings against Justice and Development Party members especially against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”. In this book, Çölaşan tried to explain the behind-the-scene events of his expulsion from Hürriyet newspaper in a very simple, readable and delightful style and criticized governing Justice and Development Party (JDP) for its authoritarian tendencies. The book has already become a classical media documentary of Turkey in the early 2000’s. In this paper, I will try to summarize and criticize Çölaşan’s book.
Emin Çölaşan begins his book by explaining the history of his family, where he came from, the reason of his family’s last name (Çölaşan-Desert Surpasser), how he started journalism and his well-known political views[3]. He then moves on to explain the history of Hürriyet newspaper and how he became a columnist in Hürriyet in 1985. His close relationship with his boss and media tycoon Aydın Doğan and Hürriyet’s editor-in-chief Ertuğrul Özkök before 2002 elections and JDP’s take-over is explained in detail. Çölaşan thinks that things have started to be changed after 2002 elections when an Islamist party first time came to the government with such an important majority. Problems first started when Aydın Doğan wrote a personal letter to Çölaşan in 2003. In this letter, Doğan was complaining about Çölaşan’s harsh rhetoric against JDP government and was encouraging him to write about corrupt banking institutions in the country. Çölaşan was willingly to write on these matters but he could not do it, since his wife Tansel Çölaşan was a member of Council of State[4], the judicial institution that would decide on the cases of sunken banks. Çölaşan thought that since he knows detailed information about these matters thanks to his wife, his articles could have harmed the prestige of the Court. Çölaşan says that he understood that the government was forcing his boss to get rid of him first time after this event. In 2004, Doğan wrote another letter and warned Çölaşan not to write on the matters of government’s corrupt practices and two leading journalists Mehmet Ali Birand and Mehmet Barlas’ fraudulent acts. After this letter, editor-in-chief Ertuğrul Özkök visited him and warned him about his style and his writings against Ankara mayor Melih Gökçek. During the conversation, Özkök defined his job not as journalism but as “robe dancing (cambazlık)”[5].
Problems continued to grow in the year 2004 and Çölaşan received many letters from Aydın Doğan and many telephone calls from Ertuğrul Özkök. Both were blaming Çölaşan for acting nationalistically, thinking in the old-fashion and were warning him not to write articles against Fethullah Gülen and European Union. Although according to polls, Çölaşan was the read most writer in Turkish press, he was always taking warnings and criticisms from his boss and his editor-in-chief. At these days, Ahmet Hakan, a liberal Islamist columnist was transferred to Hürriyet newspaper. Çölaşan thinks that the transformation of the journal due to the government’s pressures was very clear but he was not able to see this trend clearly at those days. In 2004, one of Çölaşan’s articles was not printed by Özkök and his articles were started to be changed by Özkök. Özkök as the editor of the journal was softening Çölaşan’s articles and he was doing this without taking Çölaşan’s permission. Çölaşan explains the changing attitude of his boss towards himself and the changing political stance of Doğan media channels[6] with his boss’ trouble concerning Dışbank (Fortis) and POAŞ (Petrol Ofisi)[7]. He noted that after the sale of Dışbank, he thought that now his boss would be relieved and they could do free journalism but after his controversial purchase of POAŞ, JDP government again found a way to drive Aydın Doğan into a corner. In 2005, censorship made by Özkök continued and pressure on Çölaşan increased. His articles against the corruptions of Minister of Finance Kemal Unakıtan were never published and he took warnings from Özkök. Çölaşan says that he thought of quitting his job many times because of Özkök’s censorship but he did not want to leave his column to another liberal or liberal-Islamist writer like Ahmet Hakan since the country is in a very difficult and dangerous situation. However, Çölaşan was forced to take a vacation. Çölaşan claims that after this unexpected holiday, Hürriyet newspaper received ten thousands of letters, e-mails and telephone calls which forced Özkök to call him back from holiday.
The final period of the adventure took place in 2007 where Aydın Doğan decided to close down his single anti-JDP journal Gözcü. On 16 January 2007 Özkök and Çölaşan met at Ankara Sheraton Hotel. Özkök told him that their boss is in a difficult situation because of POAŞ sale and they should support JDP government in order not to lose their wealth[8]. He explained Çölaşan that their boss is very uncomfortable because of Çölaşan’s articles and the reaction of the government. According to Özkök, Aydın Doğan was also complaining about heavy amendments he pays because of Çölaşan’s aggressive turn of phrase[9]. Lastly, Özkök offered him three choices that were determined by their boss; to take a long holiday and come back a year later with a softened liberal rhetoric, continuing to write in Hürriyet but in pro-JDP manner or to take a jackpot prize from Aydın Doğan in order not to write[10]. However, Çölaşan never betrayed his profession and continued to write in his own way. After 22 July 2007 elections, JDP’s pressures on Aydın Doğan increased and Islamic press started campaigns for encouraging the government to make purges against Kemalist and leftist writers. On 14August 2007 Özkök finally transmitted an order from Aydın Doğan to Çölaşan and said that he was fired from Hürriyet[11].
In the last parts of his book, Çölaşan tries to analyze the reasons of this situation and Islamization of the country by JDP government. In his view, a media boss should never engage in other important commercial activities since the government has a chance to threaten him and prevent the objectivity of the media if they could find even a small mistake. Çölaşan thinks that although Aydın Doğan was a secular and pro-republican person, his engagement into other sectors and the government’s pressures and threats towards him forced him to change the editorial policy of his newspapers and make them as JDP’s “Pravda”[12]. In his view, press should be independent for being able to stay out of the dirty economic relations and profit-based engagements. He condemns people like Ertuğrul Özkök for blemishing the honor of journalism and for deceiving Turkish people. He warns Turkish people to be aware of the media’s subjectivity and to struggle against JDP’s authoritarian governing style. In his view, in the past struggling against governments was easier since the governments were coalitions and they were consisted of at least two parties. Thus, journalists could have found protection from the other party of the coalition however in newly democratizing country like Turkey in his view people do not have democratic culture and tendency yet and that is why single party governments could easily turn into single-party period of 1923-1946. He gives the example of Democrat Party and its investigation committees that arrested hundreds of journals and Republican People’s Party’s supporters and reminds us the end of Adnan Menderes.
When we make a general analysis and critique of Çölaşan’s book, we should admit that the book is shocking and allows us to see that behind the specter of “democracy”, there is a dirty game going on between different sides. Government-media relations are always problematic everywhere in the world but it seems to be that Doğan Media Company’s changing attitude of secularism and his newly adopted pro-JDP policy[13] shows us that democracy is a big lie in our country and economic benefits matter most for journalists and politicians. The welfare of ordinary people, the protection of Kemalism, the indivisible integrity of Turkey and secularism unfortunately do not really matter for people like Ertuğrul Özkök and Aydın Doğan. It is also true that JDP’s understanding of secularism is not accepted by important state institutions and millions of people in the country. However, Çölaşan also deserves criticism because his writing style is very arrogant and aggressive which increases the polarization in the country and make people enemy towards each other. Çölaşan might be right about JDP’s authoritarian tendencies and hidden agenda of Islamization of the country but he does not have right to write very ugly things about the families of people like Prime Minister Erdoğan and President of the Republic Abdullah Gül. Çölaşan made the same thing in the past for Özal and created sensation but we should admit that this kind of criticisms do not enlighten people who are close to JDP, but rather make them more militant about their Islamic attachments. But still “We’re Fired Our People Don’t Forget Us” is a very important book that will be remembered when Turkish political history will be written in the near future.
Another problematic aspect of media-government relations in today’s democracies is related to the presence of what Noam Chomsky calls the “filters” in the media. Because of a single party government’s extraordinary powers, in media many people are forced not to write their criticism freely or at least be more tolerant about their criticism towards government. In Turkey this situation is very visible since many journalists are afraid of JDP government and they could criticize the government only by taking psychological support from Turkish Armed Forces. The situation is very disturbing for a democracy but it still provides the protection of a pluralist media because without the army’s opposition, JDP government could easily establish its totalitarian rule and close down all opponent journals and tv channels. The system works always in favor of the execution and the rule of law was not properly established in Turkey. Generally, law becomes the instrument of the stronger. The dominance of neo-liberal ideology in today’s world is the biggest problem of democracy. Criticism towards free-market economics could not be said loudly although countries like Turkey suffer a lot from economic problems and inequalities. State’s monopoly over media was a mistake but free-market oriented media also favors bosses’ interests and media could develop our democracy only if journalists could establish and develop their own independent channels.

- Çölaşan, Emin, “Kovulduk Ey Halkım Unutma Bizi”, 2007, Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi

[1] Emin Çölaşan (1942) is a Turkish investigative journalist and was a daily columnist in the mass-circulation newspaper Hürriyet until his last article dated 14 August 2007 was not fancied by the Turkish media emperor Aydın Doğan, and fired on the same day. Çölaşan is the writer of many best-seller books including “Turgut's Adventure (Turgut’un Serüveni)” and “Where is Turgut running from? (Turgut Nereden Koşuyor?,” extremely virulent critics of ex-Prime Minister and President of the Republic Turgut Özal.
[2] Hürriyet is often defined as the “admiral battleship” of Turkish media because the journal is very effective and respectable among Turkish citizens living in the urban and has a wide spectrum of readers.
[3] Emin Çölaşan is known as a Kemalist-social democratic figure however his “opponent” identity and harsh criticism has always come before his ideology and allowed him to criticize Kemalist-social democratic figures harshly and write about their corruptions too. Bülent Ecevit was one of Çölaşan’s latest victims because of his sympathy towards religious leader Fethullah Gülen and his community. Çölaşan is extremely a Kemalist hardliner writer when the matter is secularism and the indivisible integrity of the country.
[4] Danıştay in Turkish
[5] Çölaşan, p. 30
[6] Doğan Media Company owns many television channels including Star, Kanal D, CNNTürk and journals such as Hürriyet, Milliyet, Radikal, Posta, Vatan, Referans and Fanatik.
[7] Çölaşan, p. 66
[8] Çölaşan, p. 95
[9] Çölaşan, p. 97
[10] Çölaşan, pp. 98-99
[11] Çölaşan, p. 168
[12] Pravda was the official newspaper of the USSR Communist Party.
[13] This policy was suddenly changed again after the opening of a closing-down case against JDP by the Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya at Constitutional Court.

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