By Daniella Kuzmanovic
According to the Turkish newspaper Posta (May 23, 2009) the famous, or notorious depending on who one asks, singer, entertainer and TV star Ibrahim Tatlıses intends to establish a national news channel in Turkey. The name will be either ‘Tempo Haber’ (Tempo News) or ‘Haber 63’ (News 63). Tatlıses’ business interests are widespread and include among other entertainment, food, transport, hotels and a music TV station. Tatlıses has apparently applied to the Turkish national Radio and Television Board (RTÜK) in order to obtain a broadcasting license for his news station.
Judging from numbers, establishing a news channel has become quite the thing to do in Turkey during the past decade. The first 24 hour national news channel, NTV, was launched in 1996. Today there are around ten TV channels that can be considered as national news channels, including CNNTürk and Haber Türk. In addition, all major national channels such as the private ATV, Show, or Kanal D and public TRT have extensive news coverage as part of their daily programs. The various national news channels seem to represent both a variety of business interests, and a variety of political-ideological outlooks. Turkish media market is dominated by a few large holding companies, which each have one or more news station in their portfolio. Moreover, the various channels represent various ideological outlooks ranging from right-wing nationalist, Kemalist, conservative, pro-Islamic to liberal. If Turkey’s biggest star should not then have his own news channel, who should?
Considering that the population of Turkey is approximately 72 million around ten news channels is quite a lot. Turkey actually rivals the US when it comes to the number of national news channels. So, either one can conclude that a lot must be happening around the clock in Turkey, and that Turks are unusually interested in socio-political affairs; or one can suspect that the bouquet of news channels reflect something else. Turkey does have its fair share of events and happenings but not more so than other countries. That Turks should be unusually interested in socio-political affairs would also be hard to sustain, given that social scientists have pointed to the general lack of interest in politics in the traditional sense, i.e. party politics, national political debates etc. This is particularly predominant among youth (the median age of Turkey is under 30). The lack of interest in traditional politics stems, among other, from the conscious depoliticization of Turkish society in the wake of the 12th of September coup (1980) – which made associating with the realm of politics into something bound to cause you trouble – a lack of being able to identify with the current political establishment in Turkey dominated by elderly males, but also reflects a general trend in youth culture across the globe, where leisure, consumption and entertainment has moved to the foreground.
Thus, the many news channels in Turkey must presumably be explained along other lines. As I am not an expert on financial or holding company strategies I will refrain from speculations as to the advertising money a ‘Tatlıses branded’ news channel could attract, or how holding companies within the entertainment industry spread their investments. This undoubtedly also plays into Tatlıses’ interest in establishing a news channel. But it has also been pointed out by some of the comments on Tatlıses’ new endeavor that he is bound to loose money on this adventure. Hence, other reasons, which are not solely economic, must be taken into consideration. One of these reasons is the perception of possessing power, which is associated with being one of the major players within the media industry in Turkey. And if anything owning a 24 hour news channel on top of all one’s other media interests signals an intention to be a ‘media tycoon’ and thereby influence the socio-political and economic agenda of the country. As mentioned Turkish media is dominated by a few large holding companies. The biggest of those is the Doğan group, which of course has a news channel in their portfolio (CNNTürk). So does the Çukorova group (Sky Türk), the Doğuş group (NTV), the Feza / Samanyolu group (Samanyolu haber), Ihlas holding (TGRT haber) etc. Turkuvaz being a notable exception but they do own the prominent TV station ATV and Sabah newspaper. Also state-owned TRT has a news channel (TRT2).
There is an on-going controversy between the Doğan group and the Turkish government. The Doğan group is known to be anti-AKP, and is presumed to use its stronghold in Turkish media to oppose the government. Doğan has become involved in an enormous tax case. Earlier this year the holding company was fined for tax evasion and ordered to pay around half a billion dollars. Doğan has of course dismissed the case as being a government led attempt to crack down on opposition. The case clearly indicates the kind of power media is perceived to have in Turkey, and also indicates that media are not considered to be relegating objective news but are rather seen as stake-holders in on-going political-ideological clashes in the country. The media sector is not only characterized by being in the hands of few holding companies. Moreover these holding companies support various political-ideological segments of society, and make sure that all kind of media including newspapers, TV, radio and publishing houses are available to the particular segment they cater.
Tatlıses can, hence, write a new page in the history of the poor migrant from Urfa who became one of Turkey’s biggest stars because of his ‘sweet voice,’ developed into a business tycoon, and then attempted to run for parliament. Now he attempts to add new aspects to the public perception of him as a man of power by moving into the serious part of the media market. Of course, this apparent move has immediately been met with a range of joking comments as to who will be news anchors in this new channel, including suggestions of fellow arabesk music stars or the oriental dancer Tatlıses has had an affair with and who has featured in his TV shows.