A birthday cake is placed at the conference table at WomanTV, a three-month-old news station that provides in-depth coverage of women’s issues in Turkey. Men and women, mostly in their early 30s, wait for Duygu Ozel Tapan to get out of the studio so they can cut the cake that will mark the presenter’s birthday.
“It is a good team – we both work hard and enjoy working together,” Ahu Ozyurt, the editor-in-chief of WomanTV, told Al-Monitor. “We are around 60 people – men and women of all ages. It is a channel about women’s issues, but we have never intended it to be a women-only team. Our aim is to change the language of coverage on women – which seems to center around women as either victims of violence or happy consumers of cooking or fashion programs on TV.”
WomanTV’s broadcasts started Dec. 24 against a gloomy backdrop of increasing femicides and domestic violence in the country. According to the We Will Stop Femicides Platform, a non-governmental group with a strong organization and network all around Turkey, 440 women were killed by men in 2018. Femicides in 2019 so far number 86. On March 8, International Women's Day, WomanTV, like most TV stations in Turkey, started the morning news with a report that a Mongolian woman had been killed by her boyfriend in Istanbul.
Although violence is perceived as the biggest problem of women in Turkey, according to a 2018 poll by Kadir Has University, women of the country suffer from inequality on a wide range of issues from employment to political rights. The World Economic Forum’s gender gap index placed Turkey at 130th place among 149 in 2018. While recording progress on closing its gender gap in labor force participation as well as professional and technical roles, the report warns of worsening wage inequality for similar work. It also says that Turkey improved the share of women in parliament, though 17% (up from 14.7% in the previous parliament) falls considerably short of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's average of 28.8%.
WomanTV appears on Turkey's troubled press landscape at a time of increased state censorship and the concentration of Turkish media organs in the hands of businessmen who support the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In April 2018, the country’s largest media group, Dogan Media, was bought by Demiroren Group, whose chairman Erdogan Demiroren was known for his vocal and flamboyant admiration of President Recep Erdogan. After the takeover, hundreds of journalists were either laid off or left, including Ozyurt, Dogan's Washington bureau chief 2007-2009 and anchor for CNNTURK until the sale.
Media industry insiders say that the station's owner Recep Canbolat, a journalist who served as a consultant to Binali Yildirim, ex-prime minister and current AKP candidate for Istanbul mayor, wanted to establish a news station but failed to get authorization from the Turkish Radio and Television Authority, the country’s media watchdog. Canbolat then changed his plans.
A specialized channel on women “is actually a new avenue for many of us,” admitted Ozyurt, pointing out that many members of the team previously worked for mainstream news outlets. The station's president, Ali Guven, was CNNTURK’s news coordinator.
Ozyurt said that working outside the fast pace of breaking news “gives us a great deal of liberty," explaining, "We can go in depth on key issues relevant for women. We do not need to cover a femicide in five minutes, then move on to the next breaking news.”
Guven agreed. “One of my favorite broadcasts was when we had as a guest Ismail Cet, the father of Sule Cet, a university student who allegedly committed suicide by throwing herself off a building in Ankara,” Guven said. “We were able to get his side of the story and the judicial process. We in the studio were genuinely moved by his story, his pain.”
The Sule Cet case has become a rallying point about femicides, which are often hushed up, particularly when the men accused are prominent members of society and the victim had known or agreed to be alone with them. In the case of Cet, two businessmen stand trial for rape and murder of the 20-year-old university student. The accused claim that they tried stop Cet from committing suicide.
While crimes against women, legal rights and health issues feature high on the agenda, both Ozyurt and Guven are quick to note that they will not indulge in pessimism. “We want to showcase strong, successful and brilliant women,” Ozyurt told Al-Monitor. “We want to give hope and motivation to women in the country with compelling success stories. We want to convey the success of the amputee swimmer, women farmers who are involved in ecotourism in Anatolia or students who study robotics.”
But the team is aware that it needs to thread carefully in politics — particularly with the upcoming local elections on March 31. “We do not avoid political issues, we simply cannot,” Ozyurt said. “We cover the new vegetable stalls, violence against women or equality at work. But we do not invite politicians, particularly electoral candidates, as guests. We want to come across as above political partisanship.”
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