My other posts have been quite light-hearted but this one is a bit deeper and serious. I did a lot of research in university in relation to the media in Turkey so it’s an area of interest. I am always amazed at how much I learn about Turkish culture from their TV shows. Being a graduate of IR the subtle political factors which influence Turkish TV culture also intrigue me.
Unlike Ireland and many other European countries, media owners in Turkey also are active in other areas of business such as construction, banking or newspapers. The instrumentalisation of Turkish TV is therefore very much influenced by economic interests. What is more noteworthy is that most of the TV media is in the hands of a few business owners and this concentration of ownership has huge effects when it comes to important political stories but also general cultural beliefs projected on TV. There are so many Turkish TV channels and Turkey has become an important country in the world in relation to TV production, selling a lot of its drama’s abroad. There are the national TV channels but also each city/region has their own TV channels. It puts Ireland to shame really with our mere 5 national channels (and probably a few more local ones which no one really watches). Thankfully we get channels from the UK too so there is a bit more variety. Many homes also have digital TV which means we can watch US channels. I have to say though that the amount of channels on offer in Turkey is impressive, although that doesn’t always mean a huge variety when it comes to opinions.
The media has long been used by the state in a paternal way to bring about social change and TV media is no different. Like newspapers, TV media is deeply divided between pro government and anti government. When I visit different Turkish people I can often figure out their political views by the channels they watch or more importantly the shows they watch. It is quite different from the TV culture in Ireland which is highly regulated by independent watchdogs for issues such as fairness. During election time we have live debates and there is a strict set of rules in place to ensure each political candidate receives a fair amount of time and nobody is given too much time on air at the expense of others. In a proper democratic society the media should be a space of debate. Debate definitely exists in Turkey but not in a healthy way. Coming from Ireland I am used to certain factors that bring balance to debate on TV yet I find these are lacking in Turkey.
TV for housewives
Another difference between Irish TV culture and Turkish TV culture is the extreme commercialisation and westernisation of some shows in the latter. Spend a morning/afternoon at home on a workday and you will be overwhelmed my the amount of TV shows directed towards housewives. You know those really cheesy dating shows like Esra Erol and Su gibi. They are hard to watch if you can’t bear cheesy shows but I say persevere because there is a huge amount to learn about Turkish culture from these shows. It is often these shows where you learn about women’s views on marriage, their expectations of life and issues of domestic violence. Basically a woman/man comes on the show looking for a potential spouse. Firstly they are interviewed about what they want but stories will often come up about their past, their divorce, the abuse they suffered, their dreams etc. You get an insight into the lives of people that you don’t get every day by meeting people on the street. Like most parts of the world we don’t see the bad parts of people’s lives until we actually live with them or have a close relationship with them. Some shows are just so superficial but I find myself amazed by them just because we don’t have stuff like this in Ireland. Flash TV is just full of cringe! Ever watched an episode of Seda Sultan? It is a perfect example of Turkish TV efforts to be liberal but end up being tacky. The woman is so fake (she is a fan of plastic surgery) yet I secretly find myself singing along to her songs! Her TV show has been fined in the past for abusing moral values. Anyway check out a clip from her cringey show:
In Ireland soaps are quite popular such as the UK soaps Eastenders and Coronation Street. We also have had our own Irish dramas like Love/Hate which were very popular. The main difference I noticed about tv series when I went to Turkey was the length. Unlike Ireland where we have a weekly TV show of maximum 1 hour, in Turkey a soap can last up to 3 hours! A famous TV show was Muhtesem Yuzyil (which of course was also affected by cultural sensitivities). This drama which depicts the life of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent has been since exported to many countries. It is not historically correct all the time which is why it led to so much debate within Turkey with the government giving their opinion on it. This is the strange thing I find about Turkey. Everything is so political, even a TV show. In Ireland, our dramas/films are often influenced by black comedy. We don’t tend to go for a happy ending and we like to mock people. There are shows in Ireland which openly mock politicians such as ‘Republic of Telly’ and this is ok. People have a laugh and get over it. I can’t imagine such a show being introduced in Turkey mocking a politician. Can you imagine all the court proceedings that would follow! I guess this is what I miss the most about Ireland…the craic as we say. We like to joke around and we like to mock things. We have a sense of humour about serious things. That is just not the way it is in Turkey.
There are comedy shows of course but they tend to stay away from political issues. This again goes back to the concentration of ownership. Media owners have economic interests and they don’t want their TV channels to be the centre of political debate when it affects their assets. This brings me to the next point. Ever watched Turkish TV and notice the amount of blurring on cigarettes and alcohol? It is ridiculous because everyone knows what is being blurred. On top of that any commercial brands/or bloody scenes are blurred out. Of course any scenes that are not PG rated are cut from movies. I actually kind of like that one just because some scenes are awkward with other relatives.
Acun Medya has a big influence on Turkish TV. Acun is a Turkish personality who rised to fame from being a sports commentator and doing a few tourist shows back in the day. However today he owns an expansive share in the Turkish TV market and is also filthy rich. Most of his shows westerners will know because they are basically copies such as X-Factor, Survivor, The Voice and those talent shows similar to Britain’s Got Talent. Shows like this have become popular in recent years although I personally don’t like to watch them. It may come as a surprise to some that Acun is quite comfy with the current political establishment in Turkey and is vocal in his support for them.
Another thing I have learnt from watching TV shows in Turkey is that patriarchal values are evident. How many times I have watched a drama and there has to be a woman who cries all the time. Uh it is so annoying. Women are portrayed as the broken hearted weaker sex. The men are portrayed as the strong family man. What is more telling is the attitudes you hear from people watching TV. Like when a woman in a TV drama is strong and independent, they are criticised. It is amazing especially when you hear this from women who are supposedly supporters of equality for women.
Turkish TV and Politics – Who owns what?
A new trend in Turkish TV is the divide between those overly commercialised channels/shows and the rise in conservative TV. It is useful to know that some channels that appear like they are independent are not. TRT and all its related channels are the Turkish state owned channels so don’t expect much criticism from them. CNNTurk, you would think being CNN it is pretty liberal but in fact it is not critical of the ruling party. CNN Turk is mostly known for its infamous penguin show during Gezi Park protests. CNN International on the other hand aired the protests.
Samanyolu TV on the other hand is linked to Gulen, which many probably know now due to his fallout with Erdogan. Aydin Dogan owns several TV channels in Turkey (including CNN Turk), Dream TV and Kanal D. He is a billionare with businesses in the energy sector and tourist sector. Most of the expats probably read Hurriyet Daily News online which is also owned by Dogan. He used to be close to the ruling party but fell out over news coverage on a particular piece. Despite all of that, this media group is still cautious when it comes to criticism. TV8 is owned by AcunMedya. Ciner Media Group owns HaberTurk, Show TV, Show Turk and co owns Bloomberg. The main owner is involved in hotel businesses and power plants. Have heard mixed reviews about that one. ATV is owned by Calik Holding who’s CEO happens to be a son in law of Erdogan, so you can figure that one out for yourself. Dogus Medya owns channels like NTV and Star TV. It came under criticism during Gezi Protests due to its lack of coverage of the protests. Its CEO did resign after that and this was and continues to be a rarity.
There are so many channels so it is difficult to go through them all but the ones listed above make up a big percentage of Turkish TV media. That is exactly the problem because despite so many channels a lot of them are owned by the same media group. That concentration of ownership occurred following neoliberal reforms in the 80s but I believe new trends are happening in Turkish TV which will see extreme censorship. I know a lot of Turks who don’t use the TV for news because of this. It is quite different from my own situation. Although I use the internet a lot for news, I watch Irish news on TV and I find it reliable and fair. Obviously all news is influenced by politics and nothing can be 100% objective but it is about the effort to be objective that is important. Objectivity is lacking in Turkish news and I find the commercialisation of TV is used as an escape for Turks. Maybe that is why shows like Seda Sultan are popular amongst Turks because everything else is so serious. Reality is marred by controversy and political divisions while superficial TV shows take you away from this.
I do miss the humour of the Irish because of all this. Sometimes I just don’t want to watch Turkish TV because it all seems so fake. These are definitely the things you don’t feel until you live in Turkey. They don’t teach you this stuff in culture classes!