Turkey Pulse

What’s in store for the future of journalism in Turkey?

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Article Summary
Cengiz Candar says he is retiring from journalism in Turkey in a farewell article published by Radikal on April 6 after the publication abruptly shut down.

Editor's note: Cengiz Candar, a 40-year veteran Turkish journalist, has declared he has retired from active journalism after the Radikal website he contributed to for 10 years abruptly closed down. Candar, an expert on Middle East affairs who frequently lectures in think tanks and elsewhere, will, however, continue to contribute articles to Al-Monitor.

It was a good and timely idea to quickly publish my farewell article when the unexpected closure of Radikal was disclosed.

I had started my nearly 10-year run with Dogan Media Group with the daily Referans in the last days of 2006. I was then called the "head writer." Articles I wrote for Referans were published on the Hurriyet daily’s website.

I started writing for Radikal in 2008. Until Referans closed down in 2010, my articles were published simultaneously each day in Referans, Radikal and Hurriyet. I think I was the first writer with such a status in Turkey’s media history.

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With this farewell article, I am concluding my 40-year-long career as an active journalist.

On April 6, I had written an article and dispatched it to Radikal when my wife said, "Radikal has been closed down." I couldn’t believe it. She said she had seen a Twitter message about it.

I didn’t shout, “This can’t be true.” We have been living in a country where such events have been happening for some time; still, it was disturbing for me to learn about it in such a way.

Nevertheless, I continued with my work and sent a message to my editors to use bold fonts for a couple of words in the article.

This is when I recalled an experience I had with Altan Oymen, who I have always looked up to as a master of this profession.

It was in the 1980s. Turkey was living through military rule again. Oymen used to follow the discussions in the European Council about Turkey and pass them to us by phone in amazing detail. I used to be Oymen's editor in daily Cumhuriyet, and was responsible for having a phone glued to one ear typing his dictation, then writing his articles' headlines and supervising their typesetting.

On the day when Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II, the entire newspaper was reset. In the composing room, as we were frantically trying to get our typesetters to put in new details and corrections Oymen was phoning in, editor-in-chief Hasan Cemal was on the brink of a nervous breakdown because of our monopolizing the typesetters.

Now, it is 2016. Civilian authoritarianism in Turkey continues to reach new heights. Radikal has been closed down and my active journalism career came to an end after learning about it in a most unprofessional manner.

I was a journalist from the generation that respected the requirements of proper journalism by learning from the masters of the profession. For my generation, the idol of Middle East journalism was the legendary correspondent and foreign affairs editor of the French daily Le Monde, Eric Rouleau. We became close friends in a short time; he played a major role in shaping my journalism career.

Thanks to my 40-year experience in journalism and in the light of recent developments in Turkey, of course I was aware that the journalism we had been practicing was in its death throes. First of all, we need a national atmosphere and appropriate institutions that enable us to practice this profession following accepted norms. But that atmosphere had but totally evaporated. Looking back, it wasn’t all that difficult to guess that the days of Radikal were numbered.

But Radikal had still continued to survive, although it had shifted to digital journalism two years ago. Still, the shift from being printed on paper to digital publication followed the global trend.

The prerequisite for its survival was for Turkey to have a robust democratic regime. Of course, you would need an institutional culture and determination to enable that regime to survive.

The progress of democracy in Turkey and Radikal’s life were on parallel tracks. When we reached 2016, there were too many indications that Radikal was coming to the end of its life. Radikal couldn’t survive on its own.

What was unexpected was its sudden death. Radikal’s demise is an indispensable loss to anyone who wants Turkey to be a free and democratic country.

Undoubtedly, I am deeply saddened by the point my country has reached.

As for putting an end to my career as an active journalist, it was going to happen one day anyway. In a sense, it was natural for it to happen this way because nowadays those who hope to benefit from my going silent easily outnumber those who want to hear my voice.

For 40 years, I did my work with pleasure from all corners of Turkey and the world over, sometimes under extraordinary conditions.

I witnessed many historic events on location and met historic personalities involved.

I created my own opportunities but I was also lucky. It was a good 40 years.

Of course, you cannot expect someone like me who spent most of his career writing opinion columns three to four times a week to not make mistakes. I was no exception. I only hope that my observations and comments that were accurate have outweighed my mistakes, and that I haven’t embarrassed myself too much in the minds of my readers.

So long, farewell …

A modified version of this article was published in Turkish in Radikal on April 6.

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Found in: turkish media, turkish democracy, newspapers, newsmaker, news and media, media freedom in turkey, journalism, freedom of expression in turkey

Cengiz Candar is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. A journalist since 1976, he is the author of seven books in the Turkish language, mainly on Middle East issues, including the best-seller Mesopotamia Express: A Journey in History. Currently, he is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS) and a Senior Associate Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). On Twitter: @cengizcandar

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