|By Editorial | Turkishpedia | Mar. 15, 2017|
In this modern age, democracy (vs. autocracy) and the structure of the media are very much related to each other. The structure of the media can tell much about whether a regime is democracy or autocracy. Turkish media tells that the regime in Turkey is more of an autocracy than a democracy. Here is why …
But, before I start, I want to clear the way by defining democracy and autocracy. I also want to say a few things about competitive authoritarianism.
Democracy vs. Autocracy
What is a democracy? Very simple: It is the opposite of an autocracy. Then, what is an autocracy? There are several different definitions of autocracy in the literature. I will not go into any boring details. Let us do it simple.
There are three basic tenets of autocracy. First, in autocracies, the executive power is concentrated in a few hands. These hands can be a person’s (e.g., sultan, strongman), a family’s or a clan’s (e.g., dynasty), an ethnic group’s, or a class’ (e.g., politburo) hands. Let us call these hands ‘the power center.’ Other members of the society either do not have, or have very restricted access to the power center. In democracies, there is not such a power center. The executive power is diffused, and many hands (or institutions) hold it.
Second, in autocracies, the power center stays in the same family, clan, group, or class. It does not change hands. In other words, the next sultan is often somebody from the same family, and most likely the eldest son of the former sultan. In democracies, on the other hand, the power center moves from one group to another. The next president is usually the leader of the opposition party.
Third, in autocracies, the executive exercises power with none, or very limited institutional constraints. This means, s/he rules the country as s/he wishes. On the other hand, in democracies, the executive’s actions are constrained and controlled by the legislature, the judiciary, and other state institutions.
There are very few pure autocracies, or pure democracies in the world. Most regimes in the world are a little of both. Therefore, scholars tend to make autocracy and/or democracy scales, and treat autocracy vs. democracy as a continuum. For example, POLITY IV is one of such scales, which has value ranges from -10 to +10. Two well known democracies, the US and Canada have scored +10 on this scale since 1945. On the other hand, two well known autocracies, China has scored -7 since late 1970s and Russia has scored -7 from late 1950s until late 1980s. It has switched to plus scores in 1990, and has a current score of +4.
Most people think that there is only one-direction between democracy and autocracy. That is, autocratic regimes become more democratic over time. This is not true. Most regimes go in both directions. They become more democratic one year or decade, and become more autocratic the next year or decade. For example, Russia’s POLITY IV score increased from +3 to +6 in early 2000s, but decreased from +6 to +4 in late 2000s. There are different scenarios in which democratic regimes drift to autocracies. One of these scenarios is via competitive authoritarianism.
Here is how competitive authoritarianism falls out. The current regime and the state structure, although it is democratic, sucks. People loose their faith in its institutions (e.g., the legislature, the judiciary, etc.), because they do not operate as they should do. Thus, people wait, look for, and expect a ‘Messiah’ to fix them.
The Messiah must be an outsider who is not corrupted by the current regime. When he comes, he ‘fixes’ things step by step, but with great difficulty. It is because, since he is an outsider, although he has the population on his side, all vanguards of the old regime (e.g., military, judiciary, bureaucracy, businessmen, etc.) are against him. He crushes them. And fills the voids with those who are loyal to him. He does not only changes people, but also changes the system (or, the rules of the game). For example, he appoints generals, judges, and governors who are loyal to him; he creates businessmen by who are loyal to him by sharing spoils of the government.
These things happen in a relatively long time. Therefore, most people do not realize the change. But, at the end of the day, the play-field becomes so tilted to the advantage of the ‘Messiah’ that it becomes impossible to win any election against him. That is how an elected leader becomes an autocrat (or a dictator) and a democracy becomes an autocracy. The regime is an autocracy, because now (1) the ‘Messiah’ controls all (or most) of the executive power, (2) he is able to keep the power in his extended family, and (3) he can rule as he wishes without being responsible to any effective control mechanisms. There is not anyone who can challenge him, not in military, not in judiciary, not in bureaucracy, or not among the businessmen.
This is called competitive authoritarianism.
The Public Media
Competitive authoritarian leaders (i.e., autocrats), or any other autocrat, can be challenged by only the people (i.e., the population). Note that the people was the one who brought the competitive authoritarian to power in the first place. Therefore, only they can take him down. And the people are herded by the media.
This is the reason why autocrats try to control the media. The reason why they arrest journalists, close newspapers, TV stations, and so on. And, this is the reason why they have their own media tycoons. Turkey’s autocrat owns such a tycoon. It is popularly known as the “Pool Media” in Turkish. The name comes from a funds’ pool that was used to take control of several dailies and TV channels. There are currently more than a dozen national dailies and as many TV channels in the Pool Media. Figures 1 and 2 below show a historical comparison of the sales of the Pool Media versus the mainstream and the opposition media.
Figure 1 shows the trend of total weekly sales of national dailies from January 2009 to March 2017. Data were downloaded from www.medyatava.com website. Daily newspapers are grouped into three categories: The Pool Media and pro-AKP, the Opposition and Hizmet Movement, and Dogan Group and Others. Dailies in the Pool Media are owned by Turkey’s autocrat and his close associates. Dailies in the pro-AKP group are owned by people who are fed by the spoils of the government. Dailies in the Opposition group are owned by people who oppose the AKP and its politics on various grounds. Dailies in the Hizmet Movement group were (until late 2015) owned by people who were associated with the Hizmet (also known as the Gulen) Movement. Dailies in the Dogan group are owned by Aydin Dogan. Figure 2 below shows the same trends, but with percentages.
Figure 2 shows that Turkey’s autocrat directly or indirectly controlled nearly 40% of the sales until 2016. In early 2016, Zaman, Bugun, and Ozgur Gundem of the Hizmet Movement were usurped by the AKP government. The percentage of sales of the opposition dailies fell from over 30% to less than 20%. At the same time, the percentage of sales of the Pool Media and pro-AKP dailies increased to more than 50%. Thus, at the end of 2016, Turkeys autocrat controlled majority of the press media. The Dogan Group and other dailies share nearly 30% of the sales. Although these dailies are considered independent from the government and the opposition, they are intimidated, and therefore they are not likely to dare making news against the policies of the government. Especially after the usurpation of the Hizmet Movement’s dailies, only the hard core opposition dailies can make news that criticize the government. This means, more than 80% of the press media in Turkey have submitted themselves the autocrat. This makes it impossible for the other parties to win in any election, because, as said before, common people are herded by the mass media. This means, Turkey is an autocracy.
 The dailies of the Pool Media are: Sabah, Turkiye, Yeni Safak, Takvim, Gunes, Aksam, Star, Karar, Yeni Birlik, Istiklal, Milat, Dirilis Postasi, Yeni Asir, Vahdet, Yeni Yuzyil, Yeni Soz, and Daily Sabah