If in a country, its citizens’ both human and civil rights have been regularly and immensely violated in all areas, this stems from the mindset behind an antidemocratic administration. This mindset does not only encourage impunity and the lack of investigation in rights violations but also promotes corruption at all levels of the state.
As a journalist who has been investigating the corruption between the state and businesses close to the governments for many years, the distribution of public funds and public tenders becomes especially important. In Turkey, the anti-democratic mentality of today’s AKP government dominates the entire administration and therefore reflects on other institutions and social layers in practice.
This can be explained by the principle of “computational fluid dynamics” in physics: If we are talking about a corrupt and unjust mentality within the governing party in general, then this may be seen to prevail in other areas, too. Therefore, the increasing impunity behind cases of femicides or gender-based violence, for example, can be put in the same box of unfair distribution of public funds. Or the disproportionate force imposed by the security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
We live in a reality in which the rule of law has been de facto waived. This is why we see the increase in domestic violence and almost 200 amendments loosening the rules of the Public Tender Act.
There is an invisible but strong relation between the subconscious of a perpetrator who is aware that he will not be facing any punishment for committing violence against women, and the implementation of numerous regulations to loosen and deviate from public tender rules.
Those two issues cross when it comes to the fact of how we are being ruled. Rights violations, gender-based violence, and an increase in corruption are therefore intertwined.
It is also possible to summarize this mentality from the perspective of a journalist who has been closely following the policies of today’s government: During the 18-year rule of the current government, which came into power using a slogan “to end poverty, corruption, restrictions”, all three of these have increased.
Insisting on journalism
The most important and relevant part of this picture of an antidemocratic rule for us journalists is the violations of freedoms of the press and expression.
In an atmosphere in which several pressure mechanisms have been used as a constant threat, choosing journalism looks like an act of resistance – even though the actual intention is not so.
But why do journalists and those who insist on journalism choose this path?
The first reason that comes to mind:
Internalization of the right to information and news as a fundamental human right. Seeing that the need for this right is on the rise despite the deterioration and rotting of all institutional capacities.
Secondly, one might have a problem with the mischief that has been produced and spread by the outlets that pretend to be newspapers and news channels. If we are seeing that the living standards of those who are running such propaganda outlets of the government are increasing, this is in return for staying silent, hiding information, spreading manipulation. And if some of our colleagues are facing prison for reporting what government the dislikes, then sticking to the truth might become an issue of persistence.
Maybe the answer can also be summarized in one short sentence:
This is the best job left one can do.
Reporting on corruption
Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, which is a strong reference point for journalists.
The question of how governing officials run public tender bids is a vital question in business journalism universally, and a problem that will never go out of date.
However, in an economy where poverty and the abuse of labour rights have increased, this problem becomes more significant. The problem becomes even more striking when religious values are being abused by officials in economic and social policies.
If religious motivations dominate the administration, this has a multiplier effect on problems of distribution of public funds. We have seen this in numerous concrete examples in which the system corrupts and rots even faster and deeper.
When the public fund management is not transparent and held accountable, when the decision-making process is not transparent and religion is exploited for political gain, then insisting on reporting on corruption might bring some difficulties for the journalist.
Companies’ new confidence
Here, we can mention such difficulties as being labelled a “traitor” – a smear widely used by government supporters – being targeted by online harassment on social media, having access to your news articles blocked, and even facing criminal charges.
The overall atmosphere in terms of press freedom is the determinant here in terms of the difficulties you face. In fact, this atmosphere gives “confidence” to the pro-government companies that you investigate.
The main source of this confidence is the power they have acquired. Thanks to certain “mega projects” handed to these companies in private public tenders and inflated tributes to these projects by the government, these companies are conferred with a de facto sovereignty.
If this statement sounds too ambitious, then I suggest you take a look at the number of projects undertaken by these large business groups as part of the so-called Public-Private Collaboration initiative. Don’t forget that these 20- to 25-year-long contracts guaranteed a certain amount from the State Treasury budget to be paid to the contractors and were kept entirely secret. I must also remind you that the responsible ministries have averted each parliamentary question regarding these projects by giving the same answer: it is a “trade secret”.
The same situation is valid not only for the private companies but also for those foundations whose directors are linked to or have close relationships with the government.
Unequal before the law
Our rules state that everyone is equal before the law. But in practice, we see that is often not the case.
Policymakers’ relations with large companies (or mid-tier businesses) and with religious-oriented foundations give them a de facto advantage in the justice system. Their requests to file criminal charges against journalists or to block access to a news article are immediately accepted.
To put it another way: it is very rare for a court to reject a request to block access to a news article or a column that is “disliked”.
Let’s take it one step further. Let’s say there is a court order to block access to a news report. Or, even though the article falls within the limit of free expression, there is an order to issue a correction or retraction.
Normally, you have the right to appeal these orders. However, the acceptance of these appeals is highly rare, too. I wonder why (!). So there is an appeals mechanism, but only on paper.
On the other hand, criminal courts turn down similar requests by people who are critical of the government, stating that the impugned content falls within the limits of free expression even though there is an actual insult.
Mission: To discourage
In recent years, more and more news articles have been subject to demands for high compensation.
In some cases, astronomical amounts such as 1 or 1.5 million Turkish liras have been demanded as compensation.
If an unrealistic amount of 1 to 1.5 million liras is being requested from an ordinary journalist, you can be sure that that company is seeking to kill two birds with one stone.
The first aim is to “intimidate” that columnist. The second is to discourage other journalists, too.
You can understand the importance of this intimidation for these companies from the high court fees they pay, which rise in line with the compensation they seek for.
Well, in the end, they do spend from a fortune amplified by public funds.
The over-confidence of these companies sometimes reflects on the lawsuit petitions they submit for compensation against journalists. For example, they use daring and disrespectful statements as “her devotion to her country should be questioned” in a lawsuit filed against an article I wrote.
You can also see that these difficulties are not discouraging journalists devoted to their jobs. On the contrary, it motivates them more. The only problem is that preparation for the lawsuits takes time. Instead of focusing on the news, you have focus on the trial. Which, unfortunately, is a waste of both time and effort.
To sum up:
Working to reveal the truth might bring difficulties for a journalist whether it is about corruption or not. But none of them is harder than pretending to be a journalist in the media supported by the government and staying silent when you know the truth.