Oktay Ekşi

Oktay Ekşi

"Our resignations did not reduce the pressure on the press"

Turan: When the new bill to put more pressure on the media was being discussed in the parliament, your article titled “The final nail in the coffin” was published in the Cumhuriyet newspaper. At the age of 90, you continue to fight for media freedom. It seems that your article had an effect, the debate on the bill was stopped. If you don't mind, let's start with your resignation from the Hürriyet newspaper, where you were the editor-in-chief for 34 years. If I'm not mistaken, it was November or December of 2010...

Ekşi: I don't like to talk about a place I left. But if you are asking a question, let me tell you briefly. It was late October-early November. In fact, the pressure started at the beginning of 2008. As soon as the AKP single-handedly strengthened its power in the July 2007 election, the prime minister of that time thought that all the media were obliged to support him. In 1954, Adnan Menderes had the same dream. I mean if this nation supports me, I can do anything I want. He went out of his way to create a media that would support him. According to what I heard, the auditor Hamdi Topçu told the prime minister, “Impose heavy tax penalties on them so that they cannot overcome. Then they will surrender to you”.

At that time, I was the editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet newspaper. Doğan Media Group was hit with heavy tax penalties one after another. Tax penalties amounting to 3 billion 800 million dollars were determined by breaking the law. Even though Aydın Doğan protested, since the courts did not give a verdict, the interest of the tax penalties continued to be charged to Aydın Doğan. At the dollar exchange rate at that time, the penalty given to Aydın Doğan was more than 4 billion dollars, which was the heaviest financial penalty given to a media organization in the history of the world. Aydın Doğan paid a fine of approximately 1 billion dollars and terminated the work. At that time, five words in my article angered Tayyip Erdoğan, I resigned from my job in the newspaper in consultation with Aydın Doğan, and the issue regarding me was over.

However, Erdoğan wanted other important writers to leave as well. Aydın Doğan had the most powerful institutions in the media world, they kept him under pressure and intimidated the entire media. As a result, Aydın Doğan was sick and tired of this and sold all the media organizations in 2018. Most of the other media organizations had surrendered without any pressure. Apart from Sözcü, Korkusuz, and Cumhuriyet, there are no real press organizations left. 96-97% of the media went directly into the hands of Tayyip Erdoğan.

It was impossible to do journalism in such a tableau. Now Turkey is experiencing a more difficult period than in the 1950s. The number of unemployed journalists is over 10,000. The country has taken on a grey color.

Turan: In 2005, when the government changed the penal laws and wanted to make it easier to arrest journalists, you said as the Chairman of the Press Council that there is no more honorable work than defending people's freedom to receive news every morning, this is the most honorable of struggles, I am ready to go to prison before everyone else in this struggle. How do you see the situation in comparison 17 years later?

Ekşi: The release of some people from prison is the result of external pressure. That is why all the judgments of the courts are political in nature. Journalists are released from prison whenever the government allows. Those deprived of democratic upbringing rule the country with dictatorship. I'm very worried that Turkey still cannot develop well. The desire to rule the country with democracy should start from the family of people, and the education received at school and university should serve this.

Turan: From 1976 to November 2010, you were the editor-in-chief of Hurriyet. By comparison, can you say that the conditions at that time were more democratic?

Ekşi: Since 1974. The press in Turkey is 180 years old, there was freedom of speech in only 1-2 percent of these years. Because the majority of the press supported the governments and received money from padishahs and prime ministers. There have been many periods when journalists were arrested and the press was silenced. During the constitutional period, it was easy to breathe for two years, and then the press has always been under pressure. This picture has not changed even in the one-party era. However, the press has never felt as much pressure as during the time of Tayyip Erdoğan.

I have been in the press since 1950, I lived through the period of Adnan Menderes. "Fire that journalist and hire this one" was never told to the owners of media organizations. Or taking newspapers from their rightful owners and giving them to others have never happened. Looking at the atmosphere of pressure created by Erdoğan since 2008, we should be thankful for the era of Sultan Abdulhamit. That is why we are living the darkest period of our press history. Turgut Özal also tried to control journalists, and he sometimes put pressure on them. But we have never seen such pressure as today’s pressure.

Turan: The same applies to a significant number of foreign media members. Do you think Turkey will come out of these processes better or the media will not be able to recover?

Ekşi: Let me tell you my opinion: societies experience 10 times a disaster, they learn a lesson only once. The time when society learns is its profit. Therefore, we still have a lot of work to do.

Turan: I came to your office in the parliament on December 18, 2013, when you were a member of parliament. FETÖ wanted to overthrow the government on December 17, and you said, "Our fun days will start after that."

Ekşi: Did I? (laughs)

Turan: Yes, you did.

Ekşi: They may not like what journalists write, journalists may be influenced by certain groups. I would never forgive Ahmet Altan. However, Nazlı Ilıcak is like a child, he is easily deceived and goes ahead of everyone like a partisan. I never took him seriously. No one said anything to Yasemin Çongar. What logic can be used to declare a journalist “terrorist”? During Menderes' time, we were under pressure, journalists were sentenced to nine months in prison at most. Do the current investigators and judges have no conscience? What does it mean to arrest journalists so easily? Journalists never feel safe. Its name is a “regime of oppression”.

Turan: You wrote your memoirs...

Ekşi: I became a member of parliament after I stopped working in active journalism. But I could not work comfortably.

Turan: As the oldest member of the parliament, when you presided over the first meeting in 2011, you said, “Our most democratic constitution was adopted in 1961”. Bülent Arınç got angry.

Ekşi: After publishing some of my memoirs, I continue to write. I wrote a book about my wife Aysel, whom I lost early. I have 11 books published, that's enough for now.

Turan: However, you cannot ignore the further strengthening of the pressure on the media. Your article that appeared in the Cumhuriyet newspaper a few days ago also showed this.

Ekşi: This is my destiny, which means that I will not stop fighting for media freedom until I die.

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Сможет ли Москва сорвать уход Еревана под крыло Запада? - беседа с экспертом по Центральной Азии Аркадиtv Дубновым в программе "Çətin sual"

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