Pressure on Turkish media to rise on ‘foreign funding’ debate
The debate on foreign funding in Turkish media heated up when OdaTv reported that MedyaScope, an online broadcaster, received support from the American Chrest Foundation. MedyaScope founder, journalist Ruşen Çakır, said the website has already announced this transparently, putting it on the tag on day one and that everything is within legal limits, but he couldn’t have his voice heard.
The propaganda mechanism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not miss a chance. The news overlaps with President Tayyip Erdoğan’s long-term wish to take the digital media under control. Fahrettin Altun, the head of the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency, named the foreign funding in media the “fifth column”, implying that this was “influence espionage.” A new law was on the way about this.
That’s a brief summary of the current debate.
Let’s get to the details.
First, there is no prohibition on using budgets or funds from external sources for activities in Turkey. Some countries like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, China impose such prohibitions. If Turkey restricts foreign funding, especially from the U.S., the European Union, and the West in general, resources used in many projects in Turkey, not only by the media but also the AKP municipalities, may be cut off.
Second, the use of funds is fully under the authority and knowledge of the Turkish authorities, in the records of the Treasury and Finance Ministry. If there is an illegal practice that has not been investigated, then the authorities should be responsible for it. The principle of transparency comes to the fore at this point. Hiding the funding should be a problem, not the funding itself.
A little bit of history
Third, foreign funding use is not new in Turkish media. For example, Mehmet Şevki Eygi, one of the ideologists of political Islamism in Turkey, launched had his newspaper Bugün with 400,000 liras (which roughly refers to some $400,000 today) from Mehmet Zahit Kotku, the leader of the Islamic cult İskenderpaş who allegedly got the money from Saudi Arabia’s pan Islamic Rabita. This is what Eygi says himself. In my “The Book of Coups for the Curious” in Turkish, I wrote about Eygi ve Bugün’s role in the “Bloody Sunday” incident in which nationalist-conservative masses were provoked for “jihad” against the youth protesting the arrival of the U.S. 6th Fleet, a symbol of imperialism at the time, in 1968, at the start of students’ street action.
So the money from Rabit’at al-Alam al-Islami (World Islamic League) that Uğur Mumcu named after his book before his assassination in 1993, doesn’t count as foreign funding?
After the Sept. 12, 1980, coup led by Gen. Kenan Evren, Rabita had funded the salaries of imams appointed by the Turkish Religious Affairs to foreign countries. The AKP has been in power for 19 years and it occasionally argues that some German foundations have been carrying out spying activities. But it has not closed down any of them. Of course, I do not suggest the closure of these foundations but point at the inconsistency.
Fourth, obviously, new foundation names, other lists of foreign funding users will roll out soon. One of the goals behind this is to be a deterrent. Well, do you think, if these foundations had supported the pro-AKP media, which are deprived of important resources after the party lost major municipalities across Turkey at the 2019 local elections would we have witnessed this debate today? Maybe one day those foundations will reveal that some other media outlets applied to them for funding but they were rejected because they could not promise “non-partisan publishing.”
Operation to suppress media
And fifth, it seems that Erdoğan and his AKP cannot bear to lose the elections that should be held in June 2023 at the latest, so they are gearing up to turn Turkey into a garden of roses. The pro-government media has been wounded by the videos of fugitive mob leader Sedat Peker who brought fore some serious allegations about cabinet ministers and Eroğan’s close circle. Recently, the Bosphorus Global (Pelikan Group), supported by Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, took control of state-run broadcaster TRT.
On the other hand, since the beginning of 2020, Erdoğan has had a project to keep all digital media in line, not just social media. Why does Erdoğan want this? Because, although it is too late, it is seen that the acquisition of well-established media organizations, first Sabah, aTV, then Milliyet, NTV, Star, and finally Hürriyet, Kanal-D and CNN Türk by the pro-government bosses did not work.
But in the meantime, thousands of colleagues lost their jobs; some were fired, others could not stand their policies and quit. Maybe the government hoped that those colleagues would totally quit the profession but they did not. Some of our colleagues continued their careers in foreign press organizations. Journalism is a profession that knows no borders. First, the government-line think tank SETA accused these colleagues of being “extensions” to the interests of foreigners. Now, these reports on foreign funding are out.
Pro-government media is not read or watched. They see this. They do not see the party-line media not reporting real news so they think that the media not under their control is responsible. They are trying to block the non-government media.
I do not use any funding for both YetkinReport or my YouTube channel. However, I do not criticize any of my colleagues who use funds to continue their profession, to convey what they know to be true and their research to the public: It is not a crime to use funds within the framework of the law. Concealment of the use of funds and their misuse are separate issues.
Now the government is trying to present the foreign fund presence as almost espionage activity, which will put more pressure on the media.
However, history and nature show that water finds its way. It cannot be stopped forever.