Magazine article American Journalism Review

A Broadcasting Thaw in Turkey

Magazine article American Journalism Review

A Broadcasting Thaw in Turkey

Article excerpt

The general cleared his throat, preparing to make the solemn announcement: For the fourth time in as many decades, the Turkish military was evoking its right to intervene in the affairs of state.

"As of midnight tonight...," general began, but then was interrupted by a deodorant commercial. As of midnight tonight...," he repeated, but again was stopped short by another ad.

The general, by now recognizable as the comic Levent Kirca, tried a third and then a fourth time.

"Oh, I give up!" he snarled. "These damn private TVs have no respect! They won't even let me read the state of emergency!"

Though a parody, the sketch is emblematic of the rebellious undertone that has been creeping into Turkish broadcasts of late. The proliferation of private stations has provided an unpredictable twist in Turkish broadcasting etiquette.

At last count, there were 10 private national stations in Turkey, plus several regional and local channels. Together they represent a Wild West of broadcasting, and perhaps the truest mirror of this curious, contradictory country of 60 million people.

"The private stations have broken the...state monopoly," says Ufuk Guldemir, president of news at SHOW, the most popular of the new stations.

There has also been a fundamental change in how television news is gathered. Stringers equipped with video cameras now provide much of the material, and good taste is not their forte. One crew, for example, captured every horrible moment of a man dying of a heart attack while giving a speech to a women's club.

More newsworthy topics also get plenty of air time. While the government station was announcing that Turkish planes had razed a Kurdish terrorist base in Iraq, a private station slipped in a cameraman and showed that the government claim was inaccurate. In another incident, stringers covering a May Day parade filmed police beating marchers and even a member of Parliament. …

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