In the last couple of years, criticism of the government has become a risky business in Turkey. Hundreds of journalists critical of the government, including some prominent ones, have been dismissed.
In the Rumi Forum’s event entitled “Restrictions on Individual, Enterprise, and Media Rights in Today’s #Turkey”, Kerim Balci of the Zaman Media group discussed the increasingly problematic climate of modern Turkey’s free press in the wake of increasing persecution by the Turkish government headed by President Recep Erdogan. Balci began by introducing the strategies of the government to suppress opposition media and convert them into pro-government media, noting that the suppression of free press is a common theme in authoritarian regimes throughout the international community but particularly relevant in Turkey at present. A central component to this strategy begins with accusing a given media organization of colluding against the government in order to legitimize its takeover or conversion by those sympathetic or outright allied with Erdogan. Media groups in Turkey are unique in that they used primarily to lobby on behalf of another industry or business within the country such as construction, locomotive, or textiles and are not considered explicitly profitable ventures in their own right. Erdogan’s government has exploited this by recommending certain loyal businessmen to buy prominent media groups in exchange for their support and subsequent favorable coverage to the regime; newly acquired media groups will invariably receive and enjoy special benefits and privileges from Erdogan on account of their positive coverage of him. Ironically, Balci notes how pro-government journalists are being paid with money from opposition businessmen themselves who are compelled to convert their media conglomerates into pro-government networks of support for Erdogan and his policies. Aggressive governmental tactics such as the widespread application of tax-auditing being used as political leverage against opposition groups and individuals as a means of punishing those who would hold dissenting views and opinions of the political climate within the state.
Balci continued the discussion by taking an historically comparative approach in observing lessons from Czechoslovakia in Pre-WWII Europe. When Adolf Hitler sought to annex the country, European leaders permitted him to do so, opening the door for further expansion and concessions from neighboring powers. Balci argues that the same can be said with Erdogan and his government who have been increasingly aggressive in taking over the press and rooting out all opposition forces that would seek to openly challenge his political position. Balci’s own media organization, Zaman Media Group, has lost significant revenue over the past two years due to pressure from pro-government advertisers and threats made to its subscribers; it’s not only a macro-level strategy aimed at the opposition, but also micro in targeting individuals suspected of supporting media critical of the regime. During a cold-war era such as this when tensions are high within the international community, Balci notes how security issues often times trump those of human rights as evidenced by the lack of substantive criticism of Turkey by the United States and its allies. Authoritarian leaders are preferred as allies due to their predictability in uncertain times as opposed to more populist-based movements, but Balci warns that Erdogan can hardly be seen as predictable based upon his political record and aggressive policies as of late.
Turkish writer, journalist and academician Kerim Balci is recently the Editor-in-Chief of Turkish Review, a bimonthly journal published by Zaman Media Group of Turkey. Balci is a frequent columnist in Today’s Zaman and Zaman dailies, both the largest circulating newspapers in their boulevards, and correspondents to several local and international TV channels on issues related to the Middle East.
Apart from his professional job in journalism, Balci works with interfaith dialogue groups in Europe to promote multiculturalism in Europe. He served as the President of the London based Dialogue Society for two and a half years before his current assignment in Istanbul. He has edited a book named Whose War? in Turkish dealing with the Iraqi War and published an album called Ottoman Jerusalem in Photographs (IRCICA, Istanbul, 2009, Published in Turkish, English and Arabic.) and another album with modern photographs of the city called Kutsallığın Başkenti Kudüs [Jerusalem: Capital of Sanctity](TİMAŞ, Istanbul, 2011). Balcı published several articles in academic and popular books and encyclopedias, mainly about the Middle East, Turkish Politics, US Policy in the Middle East, and interfaith dialogue.
Kerim Balci studied Physics and Political Science and International Relations in the Bosporus University of Turkey. He has an MA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the city where he served as the representative of Zaman Turkish Daily for eight years. Balci is currently a PhD candidate at the Durham University of the UK on linguistic philosophy.
Event Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2015