A grassroots organisation set up by journalists attempts to create positive change in Turkish media, writes Yonca Poyraz Doğan, a correspondent at Today’s Zaman.
The Media Ethics Platform comprises a group of journalists who are concerned about the direction that journalism in Turkey is taking, especially given the polarisation of the country’s media – a reflection of our society.
A look at our manifesto tells a little more about us:
They told us to write about the “bloody” details of murders, to write extravagantly about “pornographic” details of rape stories. They told us that circulation and ratings come first and media ethics can be left aside. This is not true. They also told us that if the issue is the country, ethics is an unnecessary detail and that if the issue is in the interests of the country and the boss, then news can be manipulated. This too is untrue. Media Ethics Platform was founded to defend journalism ethics against lies.
As our manifesto indicates, our common denominator is the universal principles of journalism.
We first came together in August 2010 in order to brainstorm about media ethics at a course organised by the Media Association and the International Centre for Journalists. From this came the Code of Ethics for Journalists in Turkey. The following year, we launched a website.
But who are we? We are not “superstars” of the Turkish media. We are not supported by any media moguls or corporations and nor are we affiliated with any journalism associations. Even though we all work for media organisations in Turkey, from radio stations to newspapers, we have not named them on our website. We prefer to stand in our personal capacities as journalists who are deeply concerned about media ethics. We are a grassroots movement of professional journalists.
Before the Media Ethics Platform was founded, around 10 graduates from the Media Ethics and Digital Journalism course came together and started a group on Yahoo. We invited all graduates of the course to the group and most went on to become members. That was in March 2011. Our group has gradually grown since then and currently has 70 members. It was then that we launched the Media Ethics Platform.
We decided to launch the platform because there was no such organisation in Turkey working solely on the issue of media ethics. We felt that in Turkey’s highly polarised and political media environment, ethics was being ignored and above all journalistic independence. We see how politics shapes the way news is presented; the democratic demands and concerns of citizens are routinely ignored.
Media outlets tend to cover one aspect of a multi-dimensional story depending on their organisation’s political standpoint. There are sometimes problems with editors who want to push either their own or their boss’s agenda, be it ideological, political or financial. Then there is the dissemination of hatred and violence in the media.
In addition, there are no regulations to prevent media owners bidding for public tenders in areas other than the media. There are no restrictions on cross-ownership, and legislation to reform the Trade Union Act or to introduce hate speech crimes have not been passed. As a result, there are poor standards of journalism in the country with no strong attachment to ethical coverage.
Our platform is still figuring out how best to address the problems outlined above. We are currently running a few projects, one of which includes a code of ethics for journalism. Although the Turkish Journalists Association has a code of ethics, we believe ours is different. Our guide includes a section on ethics for online journalism, something that had hitherto been lacking, and is written in simple language (read it here in English, Turkish). We have adopted these principles and invite others to join us.
At the Media Ethics Platform, we are also in the process of producing a guide for journalists on how to avoid using discriminatory language or hate speech. Another of our projects focuses on critiquing news in the mainstream media. One example was our critique of a Turkish daily’s use of a graphic photo of a woman who had been stabbed to death by her husband. The paper printed a huge photograph of the woman, lying naked with the knife in her bloody back. Her head was turned towards the reader and her eyes wide open. We questioned the use of what we have termed “death pornography” and reminded our readers of a basic principle: all subjects should be treated with dignity and respect.
At present, we have a dedicated following of journalists and civil society activists who regularly visit our website. We hope to increase the number of followers and turn our collective power into action. We realise that it will take time to make change as our bad journalistic practices have been around for quite a long time.
We’re also aware that Medyakronik, an online Turkish media watchdog, attempted to achieve something similar before it was shut down in 2002 just two years after it launched. The organisation was established and operated by journalists and academics, and supported by the communication department of Bilgi University. The editors of the site decided to close it following a smear campaign against the university by those in the media who were opposed to its objectives.
Although we take some of our inspiration from Medyakronik, we hope that our fate will not be the same as theirs. And we hope to break new ground against the generally accepted idea that “Turkish media will never change.”