A Critical Analysis of Turkish Media Landscape for a Better Media Literacy Education / Yasemin İnceoğlu-İnci Çınarlı

Turkey, a secular state with a population of 73 millions has a strategic importance with its geopolitical location at the intersection point of Asia, Europe and Africa. Following 1999, the year of its official candidature to the European Union, Turkey is currently a country at the doorstep of EU although debates on status of democratisation, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country are ongoing.

Turkey is a member of the UN, Council of Europe, the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development), the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe), the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conferences) and BSEC (Black Sea Economic Cooperation) and also respected its international obligations on at least one occasion by starting the ratification process on 2002 for
the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography of UNHCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rihgts) into the Turkish legal system.

Since Turkey is a developing country with a high degree of dependency on the global media, Turkish citizens’ increasing level of critical thinking and self-expression through the media literacy would be undoubtedly the core element to expand the culture of democracy. Particularly the young characteristic of the population with 26 millions of 0-19 ages, among 14 millions at primary school level, makes media literacy education more crucial for these most vulnerables in assessing, analyzing and adopting a critical reflexion against the media messages.

This study aims to answer how Turkish young population could get an improved media literacy education for a healthier democracy under the market pressures and information overflow of the globalisation.

To this end, the evolvement of democratisation process of Turkey’s political, economical and social environment and also the changing Turkish media landscape under the globalisation influence will critically be analysed. Furthermore, the first Turkish media literacy education project launched by The Turkish Ministry of National Education and Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) in August 2006 has been discussed and some recent findings on the project’s evaluation will be reported.

The Changing Turkish Media Landscape Under the Globalisation’s Influence

The break of the parliamentary regime, for the third time in 20 years, by the 1980 coup d’état and the constitution of 1982 drafted and adopted during the military rule, was a turning point in Turkish media, marking the beginning of depoliticization period under the dominance of neo-liberalism. Furthermore, in 1983 when Turgut Ozal became Prime Minister, one of his liberal politic attempts was to start private broadcasting in 1990 via satellite from the Federal Republic of Germany even before the ‘Law on the Establishment of Radio and Television Enterprises and Their Broadcasts, Law No.3984 of 20 April 1994’ was passed. Subsequently, the state monopoly of the Turkish Television and Radio Corporation (TRT) was demolished and private radio stations and TV channels were operating without licences.

Ozal’s aim was the privatization of the state monopoly on broadcasting to expedite Turkey’s economic and cultural integration into the globalisation process, which he described as ‘synchronization with the civilized world’. Thus, while the liberalization of the broadcasting system was carried out through deregulation in much of the Western world, Turkey took a short cut through what might be called delegalization (Şahin & Aksoy, 1993).

On one hand, the structure of media ownership in Turkey changed under the market pressures and information owerflow of the rising globalisation, and the traditional media owners totally disappeared from the sector. The new media moguls have started to use their newspapers and TV channels for their own benefits focusing on “power” and “profit”. CEOs of these corporations were working for these moguls shared the same benefits since they mostly came from the elite class. This metamorphosis led to sensationalism, manipulation, disinformation and misinformation in the news media, for the very best interest of the media conglomerates instead of citizens’ interest (İnceoğlu & Çınarlı, 2006).

On the other hand the current Turkish media, in particular popular TV has a very big influence on the daily life of citizens. According to a TV viewing survey conducted by The Radio Television Supreme Council’s (RTÜK) shows that average daily time spent watching television is 5.09 hours in the week days and 5.15 hours in the weekends (RTÜKa, 2006). Turkey has directly passed to the audio-visual culture without completing the transition process from the oral to the written culture. The total number of newspapers currently circulating in Turkey is estimated to be 2,124. 40 of these are national, 23 regional and 2061 local (Barış, 2007). As a result, the circulation of newspapers is quite low (4-4.5 million per day) for a population of 73 million. Even though the population of the country has doubled since 1960, this rate has stood still. Turkey has 14 national, 13 regional and 203 local television channels and 89 regional and 873 local radio stations (OSI, 2005). In 2005, CanWest Global Communication Corp. completed the purchase of four radio stations *. However this does not signify that there is pluralism within the media. Turkey’s media is heavily dominated by large multi media and multi sectoral groups such as Doğan Group, Merkez Group (Ciner’s), Çukurova Group, Ihlas Group, Doğuş Group and Feza Group. All the major commercial channels and newspapers belong to these multi-media groups and do not give any chance for local ones to survive. Moreover, the distributions of the print media is monopolized by Doğan Group’s Yay-Sat and Merkez Group’s MDP. And finally in September 2006, Rupert Murdoch owned 51 per cent share of Ihlas Group’s TGRT channel. All the multi media groups are in fact large conglomerates and their activities expand to other sectors beyond media including tourism, finance, automotive industry, construction and banking (Barış, 2007).

As for the internet, the number of the users has increased to 16 million as of September 2006 showing a penetration of 21.4 per cent. The number of ADSL subscribers is around 3 million as of March 2007 (Barış, 2007).

Furthermore, due to joint ventures with global giants such as AOL-Time Warner and Dogan Media Group and also NBC Universal with Dogus Group is an inevitable consequence of the globalisation resulted with a high-dependency on global news agencies. As a matter of fact, global information exchange is a one-way unbalanced flow of information from the North to the South. Consequently 83.5 per cent of foreign news is AP, AFP, Reuter and UPI sourced and yet the proportion of foreign news by interior source is 17.5 per cent. Therefore, Turkish media is over-dependent on technology and importation is required to replace by investing on qualified human resources and productivity (İnceoğlu, 2004). All these media convergences raise serious concerns on uniformisation, manipulation, increasing commercialisation and new forms of social exclusion for the ‘informations have-nots’.

Even though Ethical Codes of Conduct of the Turkish Press Council (1996) and the Declaration of Journalists’ Rights and Responsibilities (1998) of Turkish Journalism Association exist, there is still a lack of self-control in Turkish media. Among the most striking ethical issues, the violation of individual rights, objectivity, the use of the hidden camera can be cited. The media frequently confront serious problems as well while debating taboo subjects such as Kurdish issues and military issues as well (İnceoğlu & Çınarlı, 2006).

In this media environment, an efficient media literacy education is vital and also it is diffult task to accomplish.

Media Literacy Education in Turkey
Albeit the absence of a clear and commonly agreed definition of ‘media literacy’, it the Public Consultation on Media Literacy of the European Commission’s working definition is as follows:

“The ability to access, analyse and evaluate the power of images, sounds and messages which we are now being confronted with on a daily basis and are important part of our contemporary culture, as well as to communicate competently in media available on a personal basis” (“Public Consultation”, 2006).

Media literate individuals have the ability to use literacy tools and records to their advantage including the ability to confront and resist media messages that work against their interests (Schwarz, 2005). Hence, in a world dominated by media culture where the boundaries between fact and fiction are blurred (Recommendation 1466, 2000), media literacy skills can help one understand not only the surface content of media messages but also the deeper and more important meanings beneath the surface.

European Council Committee on Culture and Education’s Report on Media Education defines media education as:

“Teaching practices which aim to develop media competence, understood as a critical and discerning attitude towards the media in order to form well-balanced citizens, capable of making their own judgements on the basis of the available information. It enables them to access the needed information, to analyse it and be able to identify the economic, political, social and/or cultural interests that lie behind it. Media education teaches individuals to interpret and produce messages, to select the most appropriate media for communicating and, eventually, to have a greater say in the media offer and output” (Doc.8753, 2000).

Consequently the link between media literacy and the human rights issues should be fundamental in all media literacy efforts. Whilst technical difficulties and contradictions with freedoms on controlling the media content exist (Doc.8753, 2000), media literacy education is more effective and realistic strategy. Media literacy education seeks to give the media consumer greater freedom by teaching them not just to analyse, access, evaluate, but also to produce media (“New Mexico Media”, n.d). It allows people to exercice their right to freedom of expression and right to information. Moreover, it enhances participation and interactivity in the society and consequently prepares for democratic citizenship and political awareness (Recommendation 1466, 2000).

Turkish citizens are predictably in need of critical approach in such above mentioned media environment. However, they do not have knowledge about the media ownership structure, the symbiotic relationship between the media-politics-business world and the deconstruction of the messages. And especially as “young people more eager than adults to handle new technologies and more with musch ease, whilst their discerning capacities and their ability of value-based judgement are not well-developed” (Isohookana-Asunmaa, 1999) the young characteristic of the Turkish population with 26 millions of 0-19 ages, among 14 millions at primary school level, makes media literacy education more crucial.

Furthermore Turkey is still a developing country with a high degree of dependency on the global media, Turkish citizens’ increasing level of critical thinking and self-expression through the media literacy would be undoubtedly the core element to expand the culture of democracy (İnceoğlu & Çınarlı, 2005).

First Steps for a Media Literate Society
The Turkish Ministry of National Education and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) launched a media literacy education project on the 22nd August 2006. Five primary schools in five big cities of Turkey have been selected as pilot schools in order to introduce media literacy education into the high schools’ seventh-grade curriculum. To this end, The Ministry of Education assigned 30 social sciences teachers in order to teach media literacy to 780 students in these five schools. These social sciences teachers had four days seminars given by 6 communication scholars. The lectures were as follows: introduction (communication, communication process and essentials), mass communication (mass communication means, relations between communication and mass communication), media (essential functions of the media, media economy, media and ethics, media literacy: its significance and importance), TV (TV as an efficient mass media, TV broadcasting in Turkey, TV program categories), family, children and TV (TV viewing habits, TV’s negative effects, TV programs analysis and “smart signs”[1]), radio (radio as a mass media, radio’s negative effects, radio program categories, radio program analysis) newpapers and periodicals (basic concepts of newspapers, the importance and comparison of the news and photographs, implementing a newspaper, periodical categories), internet (characteristics and functions of internet, virtual reality) (RTÜKb, 2007). Turkish Ministry of National Education and RTÜK prepared also a lecture book, “Primary Education Media Literacy Course: An Education Programme and Guide for 7th Grades” for the use of teachers. Finally, in August 2007, a film promoting the media literacy courses will be broadcasted in all TV channels.

This course will be a component in the school curriculum of 2007-2008 as an elective course at sixth, seventh and eight-grades in 35 thousands primary schools in Turkey. Students will choose this course in these 3 years period for only once. The Ministry of National Education assigned 105 teachers to have in-house training seminars in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, for 3 days in June 2007. These teachers will subsequently give the same seminars to their collegues in their home cities. One of this project’s aims is to formulate this course as compulsory in the future. The project also aims to create a media literate person in every 17.5 millions domiciles. RTÜK also plans to create a web site in the future designed for non-formal education of the parents (RTÜKb, 2007).

A recent research conducted in İstanbul-Bakırköy Şehit Pilot Muzaffer Ersönmez, one of the selected pilot schools is significant in order to obtain the first and the only key findings on the assessment of the effectiveness of the first steps of the media literacy education in Turkey.

The aim of this study was to examine whether the social sciences teachers assigned for this particular project have enough knowledge and skills to give media literacy education at primary school and as well as to evaluate in-house training and also the effects of this education on children. To this end, in depth interviews were held with two social sciences teachers and also a qualitative and quantitative survey was conducted with the 37 students of media literacy class.

According to some qualitative findings of this research, teachers notified that they believe the neccessity of the implementation of media literacy course into the Turkish education curriculum and they also added that children gained different perspective through the lectures that support them to increase their ability to distinguish between the reality and the virtuality. On the other hand, one of the key findings is that teachers had some difficulties in defining media and their functions. They indicated that they did not recommend to students any other source except the lecture book and the official web site designed by RTÜK whilst students did not satisfied with the informations during the lectures. Teachers mostly emphasized the changing attitudes of children towards TV, internet and newspapers subsequently the courses, while not including ads, movies, magazines and books. The teachers believed that children have started to criticise the media, on the contrary the research revealed that students could not yet enhanced a critical point of view in terms of TV program selection, character preferences in TV series etc.

Since the rate of the university graduaded population percentage is approximately 10% in the country and not subjected any formal or non-formal media education, it is obvious that parents should be educated in terms of media literacy in order to support and lead their children to “read” the media (Akyürek, 2007).

Eventhough there are no agreed criteria or standarts for assessing media literacy and diffulties in evaluating process are discussed for every model in the world, the need

Another significant media literacy education attempt is a non-formal civil initiative in Turkey is Media Watch Platform, inspired by Media Watch Global. MWG has founded in 2002 during the II World Social Forum in Porto Allegre and aiming “to combine different needs and angles for observing media and identifying transgressions to fairness and accuracy”(“About MWG”, n.d.). With the initiatives of ILAD (Communications Researchs Association) and TGC (Turkish Journalists’ Association) and universities, the Media Watch Platform has been established in April 2007 with the participation of NGO’s, media scholars and journalists. The Media Watch Platform aims to monitor all undesirable developments in daily papers, radio and television stations, to ensure various topics covered in the local and foreign news on the contents of culture, economy, social affairs and politics that are not purposely distorted or partially covered and to take action if necessary, to ensure that all violations are conveyed to the public and to organise discussion panels on subjects which are considered to be highly sensitive to the public.

Media literacy education as a continous process, in both formal and non-formal aspects, is an essential element in fostering democratic participation and interactivity in the society. Media literate individuals are those who could enhance their level of critical thinking and self-awareness against media’s information overflow and market pressures of the globalisation.

The young characteristic of the Turkish population with 26 millions of 0-19 ages, among 14 millions at primary school level, makes formal media literacy education more crucial for those most vulnerable ones in assessing, analyzing and adopting a critical reflexion against the media messages. Particularly the increasing level of popular demand for new communication technologies and also the changing media landscape after the 1990’s has promoted the blurred boundaries between reality and virtuality

Although the first media literacy education policy of Turkey in such an environment mentioned above could be considered as an encouraging effort on media literacy education toward to establish a ‘media literate society’ and a robust democracy for the country at the doorstep of the EU, nevertheless remains adequate. And in spite of the Turkish government and officials’ increasing awareness about media literacy issues should not to be a sporadic initiative, Turkey’s implementations on media literacy education are still not gone much further since UNESCO’s Grunwald Declaration on 1982.

On the other hand, the ratification process on 2002 on the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography of UNHCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rihgts) into the Turkish legal system and the civil initiative of Media Watch Platform which is established in order to monitor the media and ensure all violations conveyed to the public, are the first steps allowing citizens to exercice their right to freedom and information.

Media literacy education policies of Turkey should also pursue a multi-stakeholder approach and interactive dialogue between the civil society (initiatives, NGO’s), the industry (publishers, broadcasters, telecoms, internet service providers, advertisers, music industry), other governmental and public institutions (media literacy institution) and education sector. Without no doubt, the support of the private sector and NGO’s is inevitable, it should carefully be specified and be transparent, since financial means especially in technical equipment within the school system are very limited.

And to conclude, the potential of the faculty of communications in Turkey each year with 3 thousands graduates from 30 faculties across the country can be adopted into the primary school education system as teachers, otherwise a colloboration with these faculties in order to obtain efficiency in teacher training programs and designing teaching materials, would be efficient. Since civic journalism and media literacy share the common goal such as to increase the participation of the citizens who are considered as primary sources to influence the political agenda, the recent attempts such as Media Global Watch, Media Education course and current civic journalism practices will definitely foster a public dialogue in Turkey.

[1] A classification system by pictograms for TV programmes, designed by RTÜK (Radio Television Supreme Council) to protect minors against harmful content.
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*This paper has been supported by Galatasaray University Scientific Research Project Commission