Habertürk TV host Didem Arslan’s recent remarks on the channel’s editorial policy were actually a confession about the mainstream media itself.
On her late night political debate show, one of Arslan's guests, lawyer Salim Şen, remarked that the HDP is often criminalized without being given the chance to defend themselves. Arslan replied, “Sir, we are not a public establishment, we are the private sector. This is our preference.”
These two sentences were essentially a summary of the Turkish mainstream media. Social media users, especially journalists, reminded her about journalistic ethics, impartiality and pluralism.
Two Habertürk hosts came to the defense of their colleague. Veyis Ateş said: “We, as Habertürk, do not and will not host those who do not condemn the PKK.”
It’s not a surprise that the Turkish mainstream media is acting in full accordance with the regime’s policies. Not hosting critical voices is one of its unwritten rules. This is why talk shows are overpopulated by pro-government voices and figures, almost all of whom happen to be male, while the opposition is hardly seen or heard. The CHP, the main opposition party, boycotted CNN Turk due to that matter.
The HDP is a hot topic for the mainstream media, but HDP politicians and other critical voices are simply left out of such shows. Even topics such as women's rights and domestic violence are mostly debated by a bunch of men.
Due to censorship and auto-censorship, one can imagine how the “host’s preferences” for TV shows becomes quite narrow. Indeed, you can watch the same figures appear on every private or public TV channel one after another in a row.
After the 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent media crackdown, the mainstream media in Turkey came under the total control of Erdoğan. Their editorial policy was made in accordance with the neo-nationalist, Islamist agenda. With the 2018 sale of the biggest media group, Doğan Media Group, to another pro-AKP conglomerate, Demirören, the mission was complete.
But it seems that even 90% control of the mainstream is not enough. There are a few national TV channels (Halk TV, Tele1, KRT, and Fox TV) left that mostly run pro-CHP views, occasionally giving the floor to pro-HDP voices as well. They run on tight budgets but constantly get financial fines and broadcasting bans. And sometimes, the journalists working for these channels are directly targeted by politicians or trolls. In the Turkish social media scene, it’s hard to distinguish between trolls and political figures or journalists.
The rest of the oppositional media, including the few struggling pro-HDP and pro-Kurdish media outlets, use digital media. Still, this does not mean they are completely free. Around 300,000 websites were banned in 2019.
The latest target of the regime is OdaTV and its journalists. Three OdaTV journalists, one opinion writer from the pro-IYI Party newspaper YeniÇağ and two pro-Kurdish Yeni Yaşam editors were imprisoned in March. The first trial will be held next week, on June 24.
But recently another OdaTV journalist, Muyesser Yıldız was arrested on allegations of “military and political espionage.”
The latest attacks on critical media clearly show that the crackdown on the remaining media, as well as the opposition, will continue. It’s not only another blow to press freedom, but on the ability of all critical voices to be heard.
Arslan’s remarks are a confession about the state of the media and what journalism has become: a private business serving the preferences of His Highness.