State redistribution and the management and manipulation of crisis

State redistribution, the third main element of accumulation by dispossession, has been used effectively by the AKP to dominate the mainstream news media and to take over media corporations. The process offers successful examples of crisis management and manipulation. The second neoliheral transformation of Turkey began with the AKP’s accession to power after the 2000-2001 financial crisis in Turkey. The financial crisis caused the collapse of the centre parties at the following general elections. In this crisis environment, the AKP headed by Erdogan won the elections and gained political power. The winner in the media industry was Aydin Dogan, who managed to get through the crisis with relatively little damage. After the crisis, bankrupt media companies were transferred to the Saving Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey. They were ready to be auctioned off by 2005 and 2006. Thus, a competitive environment was constituted in the market for media moguls who had survived the crisis, like Aydin Dogan and other rich entrepreneurs who wanted to be in the media industry. With the application of neoliberal policies, the conglomerate owners used the media industry as a means of gaining political and economic power from the 1990s on. This was the starting point on the path that would lead to the “pool media".

Aydin Dogan carried out very successful crisis management and manipulation while the SDIF auctions were approaching. First, he began lobbying to eliminate legal barriers to media ownership, which had been preventing him from buying new television channels and newspapers. According to Aydin Dogan, unrestricted media ownership could provide media outlets with financial freedom and that freedom could be translated into transparency, consumer choice and press freedom. But on the contrary, this logic was the start of the dispossession of the freedom of press in Turkey. Ten years later, the effect of this logic can be seen much more clearly. At that time, benefitting from a legal loophole, he applied for ownership of Star TV although he could not convince parliament to amend the law - but eventually the amendment he wanted was approved in 2011. Basically, he tried to protect his dominant position in the media industry by applying crisis management. After the financial crisis in 2001, Aydin Dogan laid off around 1000 employees from a total of 5300 employees. Here he very successfully managed to turn crisis into an opportunity for the second time. Financial difficulties were the perfect excuse for him to forcefully convince the remaining employees to give up their union membership. That was the condition for them to be able to keep their jobs. Along with digitalization and atomization, precarity has rapidly become a widespread and central part of the structural transformation of the news media. The almost total dispossession of freedom of information and freedom of the press has become a reality. This dispossession was a relatively easy, quick and steady process because of the succumbing of the precarious and disorganized journalists. Their disorganization and precarization also played a big role in the silencing of the Dogan media by Erdogan.

The AKP could instrumentalize the SDIF by taking advantage of the experiences they gained from the process of wealth transfer after the 2001 financial crisis. The party transformed it into a political means of crisis manipulation. Pro-government tycoons, who tried to win the contracts of big construction projects and were supported with state redistributions, were directed to invest in the mass media sector. SDIF’s confiscation and sale of financially troubled media enterprises to cronies of the ruling party became a constant means of accumulation by dispossession. After a while, SDIF was transformed into a means of political manipulation in order to confiscate ownership of the media outlets which opposed the government, and to silence and lay off critical journalists. The top four media owners in Turkey, Turkuvaz/Kalyon, Ciner, Demiróren and Dogus Groups, share 71 percent of the cross-media ownership.20 The owners of the media in the top ten have close relations with the Erdogan regime. The Turkuvaz/Kalyon Group has undertaken important infrastructure projects over the years, including Istanbul Airport, Istanbul D-100 Highway Metrobus Line, Taksim Square Pedestrianization Project, Erbil Duhok Water Supply Project etc. Demiróren Group is an important investor in oil and industry. Ciner and Dogus Groups are active in the energy and mining sectors. Erdogan’s struggle to create a loyal news media bloc by using state redistribution was extremely successful. As Harvey emphasizes, once the state was transformed into a neoliberal set of institutions, it became the prime agent of redistribution policies. Reversing the flow from upper to lower classes that had been implemented during the preceding social democratic era is the main reason for the transformation of the state (Harvey, 2007: 38). By channelling state advertising to friendly media outlets and handing out government contracts and cheap credits via state-owned banks, the ruling party helped certain media companies prosper. That is how the Gillen Community’s media outlets prospered before the confiscation of their media outlets once they became Erdogan’s enemy. The most terrifying patterns of the AKP’s crisis management and manipulation occurred in the November 2015 elections and the failed coup attempt on 15 June 2016. After losing its majority in the parliament after the June 2015 elections, Erdogan’s party ended the so-called Kurdish Peace Process. Immediately after this, acts of violence accelerated and the discourse of the war against terrorism was used as a practical means to manage and manipulate the crises. After 101 people died in explosions at a Peace Rally in Ankara on 10 October 2015, the prime minister said that his vote increased. And after the failed coup attempt, Erdogan claimed that the coup attempt was a gift from God. Both phrases were admissions of political crisis manipulation and the application of the “shock doctrine”.21 The news media’s support for crisis manipulation and legitimation was a strict continuation of the alliance between mass media and the military. Five days after the coup attempt, the state of emergency was declared and lasted for two years. In this period, the regime changed; with the 16 April referendum in 2017, the parliamentary system in Turkey turned into a presidential system that has no precedent in Turkish history.22 And just before the state of emergency officially ended, Aydin Dogan sold his entire Dogan Media at a price below its market value to Demiróren Group, which is a component of Erdogan’s “pool media”. The fall of Aydin Dogan as a powerful media mogul clearly shows the meaning of “creative destruction”. He was the one who set the norms of the capitalist accumulation strategy, and nobody is exempt from the waves of creative destruction. When the day comes (and it came very quickly for Aydin Dogan), everybody, even the most powerful actors, can be expendable.

The “pool media” and “AK trolls”, who have been hired to restrain social media, belong to the neoliheral set of institutions that constitutes the state.25 They are also agents of the process by which crisis management and manipula-tion are made highly effective.24 Between them, the pool media and the AK trolls are the main agents of the pattern of violence accompanying Turkey’s media landscape. But they are not the ones who set the norms. Like Aydin Dogan, those in the pool media and the AK trolls who have power are still not excluded or protected from the waves of creative destruction. Nowadays we can see the creative destruction process very clearly in the power struggles between the AKP and its media. Despite all this, the news media in Turkey, or what remains of it, still endeavours to make itself heard on the internet, especially via social media and YouTube. It is growing and has a serious audience. But it remains to be seen if it will survive or produce the serious news needed for a public sphere and a healthy democracy.

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