Veysel Batmaz
Prof. Dr., Istanbul University, Faculty of Communications


MORE COVERAGE, LESS GAIN. THE EFFECTS OF POLITICAL JOURNALISM ON POLITICS AND ELECTIONS: THE TURKISH CASE

There is a long-lasting debate in the theoretical academic studies of mass communication whether news media (political journalism, per se) is effective to form, change or manipulate political consequences, political discourse and election outcomes, or not. Analyzing mainstream media within the framework of effects of political journalism, generally, two distinct but interrelated dimensions are scrutinized. Jamieson and Campbell (2001) name this two-way street of media effects as media as persuasion versus influencing the media. Ideally, without one, the other does not exist.

Interpretations of events; forming, rejecting or supporting certain opinions; ideological cognitive constructions and ideas representing individual and social interests are all influences of media in modern, mass-mediated societies. The total process of formation of ideology, political opinions and manipulating how to vote through media are generally studied under the topic of media effects. Briefly, this is the power of media. From the empirical sociological point of view, the sources or the main actors for this process are media-people (journalists, reporters, columnists, media managers, and owners of media or pejoratively speaking, media barons or media moguls). The power they impose on society (media as persuasion) depends on their positions in society in relation to the economic powers, media audiences and politicians.

This so-called the fourth power of democracy, is structured in broader social influences systems via social and economic interests and psychological forces. This broader structural process in which the media are receivers of influences is called influencing the media. The main sources and forces in this process are persons like you and me (this is a joke of course), or corporations, institutions and organizations of political, economic and social interests which are called public opinion. These forces are seen as limiting powers of the media. Practically, they limit and balance the so called eager deeds of media moguls and their bed fellows, i.e. politicians.

Nevertheless, in the age of devastating media conglomerates, both media people and politicians tend to be very proud of the unsurpassed media power on society, especially on politics. The public opinion as a power to curb media and politicians is in fact a direct product of the media. Desperate Marxist critiques of negative media effects such as the Frankfurt School and the Chomskyian interpreters of media encourage this gigantic power view which in a way pleasing the media. The theory of escapism arguing alienation in the daily life stemming from the media world coupled with the Hollywood film makers establishing a super-egoistic superstructure of the global capitalism from which there is no opportunity to escape, while tangled within the web of the media superego is itself labeled as escapism.

On the other hand, in a democracy, by definition, not only the media must be equally balanced and open to both influencers (persuaders) and influenced (persuaded), but it also must be open to equal access to all public because a popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is a prologue to farce or tragedy, or perhaps both. (James Madison, 1822, in Nichols and McChesney, 2000. Italics are mine.). When taken with the gigantic media power, this naif assertion becomes an ideological cynicism as Zizek would put forward.

Despite what Madison had asserted two hundred years ago and what Adorno and Horkhiemer labels as the gigantic culture industry and what Chomsky asserted as the producing vast and overwhelming public consent shaping, not only the political but all venues of life and ordering people what to do and whom to vote, in the vast literature of political and social effects of media, starting from legendary studies of Colombia School (Lazarsfeld et al., 1944 and Barelson et al., 1954), mass media is found to have very minor immediate and direct effects on determining political and social behavior of individuals (McGuire, 2001). Not only the counter currents equal out the slanted outcomes but the portion of political content of mass media may have little importance for the political public or the masses.

The early studies which found little power of media on society have mainly dealt with political campaigns and their coverage in newspapers and television as an independent variable and factors of immediate impact. Mostly they are criticized of looking at temporally narrow events such as elections by the Marxist critiques and not seeing the totality of society in a Lukacsian way. The late studies, however, are more akin to this broader perspective of media role in a society. As a much disputed result of the Cultivation Theory of George Gerbner, mass media, especially television have been seen as the cultivator of political knowledge (ideology) rather than mere vehicle to relay political information and causing short-range effects as how and to whom to vote (Gerbner, 1982). As Barber (1980, p.20) puts it, parallel to Gerbner, political life shares in the national mythology, grows in wider cultureours is a story-making civilizationthe hunger to transform experience into meaning through story spurs political imagination. Barber (p.22) continues asserting that television and radio are homogenizing the culture very similar to Gerbners theory of mainstreaming.

When these two distinct approaches (one is immediate media effects dealt with in early media studies [beginning with Lazarsfeld] and the other is long-term effects in late communication studies [beginning with Gerbner]) are investigated empirically, in most of the countries, media emerge as an agent for only long-term effects (For the Turkish Case, see: Batmaz and Aksoy, 1995). But ironically and mostly incorrectly, the media itself in most of the countries show us that politicians (as well as the wide public) think that media is an effective tool to gain political and economic supporters and votes. This is the main question nowadays under scrutiny of media scholars.

As a result, politicians strive for more (and preferably positive and supporting) coverage in the media. The media-people, on the other hand, use this false predisposition in order to threaten the politicians to gain government support, financially or otherwise.

Surprisingly, as mentioned above, the perceived amount of media power on election behavior has been detected empirically so little by the research as related to the political dispositions of individuals (voters) but nevertheless, the ongoing myth of media conglomerates acting upon political consequences are rampart. As we will see below, in most of the countries, such as Turkey, media-people are open to any pressure from politicians who are likely to return some ways of support to the media when they are in power, using the States resources. This chicken-egg dilemma brings about a very unique phenomenon in the media-politics/society relationship. When media people and politicians are very preoccupied to influence each other and do not concentrate on any other relevant social or economic problems of the society, the media as persuasion process which is the backbone of the whole story flips away. As a result, the effect of mass media becomes not only minimal but reverse (in statistical term: negative): the more coverage of politicians and political parties (negatively or positively) in the media results less votes gained from the electorate public. When media becomes less influential, is there or will there be a turning point at this very dangerous undemocratic structural development?

To shed light on these and other related theoretical questions, I will briefly present an empirical study which investigates simple correlations between the amount of coverage of political election news in the Turkish media and vote percentages in the 1999 Election.

Before this presentation, I will summarize the media in the Turkish case, which can be seen as an anomaly as well as a support for the minimal effects theories. Although, the Turkish media, is seen by the Turkish public and desire itself to be an important agent of political behavior, the empirical findings do not support this self proclaimed and Chomskian or the Frankfurt School type assertions.

The Turkish Case

In Turkey, for the last fifteen years, political process via media encounters very surprising results, highly contrary to what we have seen before and anywhere else.

Firstly, I will now show the anomalisms in the historical structure of the Turkish Media, by looking at how it has evolved from the Ottoman press into a very high technological superstructure of the Turkish Republic. This brief tour will show some points supporting the recent findings.

Secondly, presenting my 1999 study, I will elaborate on the effects of Turkish media on politics and elections in the last decade and test the media power hypothesis, which is reciprocally shared by the media-people and the politicians. In Jamieson and Campbells framework, this phenomenon belongs to both topics of media as persuasion and influencing the media.

Thirdly, in this article, I will speculate on the future developments of the Turkish Media as to its role in the streets and in bloodstreams of the society producing the political and social pulse and elaborate on the media power in globalism.

Until the 3rd of November 2002, media-people in Turkey have long believed in their godly influential power and threatened the politicians with trying to show off their strength in every occasion.

By observational data, the same shared view has also been proven to be false in 1991, 1994 and 1995 elections in Turkey. But in 1999 election it has been shown that the power of media has worked reproducing negative correlation in determining election results with the support of sound empirical data analyzed by Batmaz (2001).

This reciprocally shared view has ended up ironically with a disaster on the 3rd November 2002 leaving all the parties of left and right out of the National Assembly except the two. The largest and in-power, Islamic, so-called conservative democrat party (The Justice and Development Party-AKP363 seats) and the other, social democrat party (Republic People Party founded by Ataturk-CHP, 179 seats and 8 independent) have been represented in the Parliament.

Long before the 3rd November 2002 Election in Turkey, media and politics have interplayed within mixed plateaus and feelings and widely seen by the vast majority of public having unethical relationships in between. Based on this negative evaluation shared by the large numbers of voters (VERSO, 2002), the result of the 3rd November 2002 Election has been predicted by some analysts as the election which would wipe out not only the allegedly corrupted centre-right politicians but also the media (For Example: Batmaz, 2001; 2002).

The Turkish Media: Its Roots and Autumn Leaves

The Turkish Media has its roots in the last decades of the Ottoman times. The first Turkish newspaper was published in 1831, Takvim-i Vakayi, by the Government to promote the Westernisation thoughts of the Ottomans, domestically and internationally. As Kocabasoglu (1997, p. 36) argued that, the first press in Turkey has not emerged as a consequence of civil economic and social needs. On the contrary, it was established as a government voice and its initial emergence has set the way until now as the (media) is always related to the Government, whatever the critical content it might have against the Government. When there is a critical attitude towards Establishment (ie. the State), according to Kocabasoglu, (p. 36), this means that that critical angle is pointed towards not the whole Establishment but to a fraction of it since the whole modern history of Turkish politics, the State is split up into several fractions of different ideology. The uniqueness of this structure is that all of those different fractions share the power of some sort in the State at the same time. Thus, sometimes full support, sometimes indirect subsidisation in terms of raw materials as papers or frequencies, the Turkish press has always been intermingled with government affairs rather than civil and public politics (Il?cak, 2000).

The main anomaly of the Turkish media is being born as the voice of the State (the first three powers) which has been a consistent feature in coming years in a so-called modern democracy. Consequently this mal-delivery has reproduced many more wrong doings and corruption backbones of the feudal elites of the Ottomans and modern governmental powers in the Turkish Republic. Its paternalist attitudes at the emergence became more manipulative after many years when private television entered in 1990. But in the meanwhile, the Turkish media has been always seen by the owners and the managers as an enterprise to make media business but an agent to make other businesses. The manipulative tones became more vocal when Ahmet Ozal, with the capital help of Uzan Family established the first private (and pirate) Turkish television, Magic Box, in 1990. Ironically, the media entrepreneur Ahmet Ozals father, Turgut Ozal was the President of the Turkish Republic, then. With this direct backing, Uzan-Ozal TV started to support ANAP, the party in power led by Turgut Ozal in the 1991 election. Surprisingly enough for the media and the public but not for the writer of this paper, the rival party won the power and Suleyman Demirel, the ex-prime minister who had severe political fights with Turgut Ozal, became the new Prime Minister.

This date is the turning point of the Turkish media effects on political pulse. The party that won the election was the less covered party in the media.

The same consequence has emerged in the 1994 Local Election and 1995 General Election (see, footnote 6).

When we come to 1999, the media world of Turkey is one in a kind, very different from all other countries of the World, even different than Italian media environment. There were (and still there are) 16 private nationally broadcasting television station ; 50 satellite foreign channels, 1200 national, local radio stations; 250 independent local television stations. There might be nothing wrong to have so many TV channels in a liberal market economy where the old scarce and natural resource peculiarity of air frequencies have long been abandoned via new digital and satellite technologies, but the main problem of the electronic media in Turkey is legislation. Without any inclination leaving the historical paternalist attitude, the RTUK (Radio Television Higher Council) has not allocated frequencies to non-of the stations as to this date (April 2005). They were all constitutionally lawful but legislatively unlawful. 3 national TV stations (Kanal 7; Meltem; STV) have Islamic inclinations; one has pro-fascist ideology (Kanal A); the rest (12) have centre right or left but all secular in content. In the press, there were 16 nationally distributed newspapers. The local newspapers are around 800 circulated in 1200 provinces. These numbers show how anomic, heterogenous and widespread the Turkish media was in 1999.

When we see the other side of the coin; this widespread electronic media in terms of geographic coverage is a hallucination in terms of effective penetration. There were only three media holdings who own the mainstream media: Uzan Group (Star-TVsecular, center right), Dogan Group (Hurriyet-Milliyet-Kanal Dsecular, allegedly social democrat and centre left), Bilgin Group (Sabah-ATVsecular, centre right). These three groups hold 70 % of the whole media in Turkey. Ihlas Group (TGRT TV and Turkiye Newspaperpro Islamic and nationalist) and Aksoy (Show TV--secular) groups add another 10 % of the media which sums up in 5 holdings, 80 % of the Turkish media is owned. The others are smaller in size in terms of coverage and accessibility. Although these media groups are non-partisans at face; they would support one or two political parties in every election and between the elections very bluntly.

The Research: Coverage vs. Votes

In order to see how media coverage affected the voters in the 1999 General Election in Turkey, I used a content analysis of the media done by an academic group of researchers headed by Dr. Bulent Capl?, Dr. Sevda Alankus and Dr. Nilufer Timisi at the Ankara University-Faculty of Communication supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think-tank which undertakes social, economic and political research and studies in Turkey (see the printed report in Konrad Adenauer Vakf?, 1999).

The date of the election was 18 April 1999. The data collection of the content analysis of broadcasting and press media was done between 17 March-18 April 1999. Trained coders, under a coding framework, double coded three television channels and eight newspapers. The channels were: TRT1-TV (The State Channel); Star-TV (Uzan Group); Kanal D-TV (Dogan Group). The newspapers were: Hurriyet, Milliyet (Dogan Group); Sabah (Bilgin Group); Turkiye (Ihlas Group); Cumhuriyet (pro-Ataturk), Zaman (pro-Islamic-Fethullah Gulen Group); Akit (Very fundamentalist) and Yeni Yuzy?l (Korkmaz Yigit).

In television total of 252 programs were recorded and coded: 96 prime time newscast; 96 late night newscast; 11 political debate shows; 16 political interviews; 33 official political propaganda speeches broadcast only in TRT-1 (the State Channel). In press, in 8 newspapers, 4518 election news; 1385 editorials (written by individual columnists with their own signatures) 100 cartoons on elections; 626 political newspaper ads were coded.

In each news item and sentence in the press and every visual and audio element in television channels, frequency of party names, political leader names and visual symbols were counted.

The overall content analysis of these 11 media outlets revealed that the mainstream media have supported politically ANAP and DYP the most, and to a certain extent CHP. But in terms of coverage ANAP and DYP scored the most and CHP came the third.

Findings:

In the correlation analysis, I used the measured variables in the Konrad Adenauer Foundation research and the vote percentages gained at the end of the election. Only, the newspaper Yeni Yuzy?l is not included in the analysis since its publication ceased short after the election. And when it is included, the negative relationship increases. Simple bi variate Pearson correlation analysis is used via SPSS.

The chart of numerical correlation is included in here to see how severe some of the negativity relationships appear (See the Chart at the end of this paper). The findings are self-revealing so that I did not include lengthy discussions in this short article about how each variable can be explained individually. Graphical best-fitted lines of each relationship can be seen in Batmaz 2001.

Nevertheless, I will discuss in very general terms what is going on in the Turkish media on influencing political pulse and what are the prospects of these finding might show to us.)


The Past and the Prospect: After the 3rd November 2002 election, most of the general public, and perhaps all, think that a new era have started. As many analyst have foreseen the collapse of the Turkish media long before, 2002 election is the decisive one in terms of negative effects on elections. As mentioned above, some analysts were insisting on that the Election would change very drastically the media world in Turkey, as its first outcome. Yet, after the election, the mainstream media turned 360 degrees and without leaving its old habits, started to support and applause the new party in power (AKP) as flattering it as the Muslim Democrat Party. The same media had threatened, cursed, insulted the same politicians and the same party just recently as the organisation of devils who advocate Seriat, the Islam Law which had long been abandoned and unlawful since Ataturks time.

Rooted back since the emergence of the press in the Ottoman times, this attitude of the Turkish media towards the (first three) Power(s) can be seen as the first reason of its political ineffectiveness on the society. Now, I can elaborate the reasons of which the media have generally not produced any significance political outcomes as it desires in Turkey for almost the last two decades.

Historically, as it is mentioned briefly above, Turkish press has been established to propagate the States ideology in different tones; otherwise, the sanctions are very severe. Of course, this does not mean that there has not been any critical, revolutionary or alternative media in Turkey. Although in some historical periods, the tone of the media itself has been very critical of the political and economic system. But when investigated thoroughly, it can easily be seen that, the atmosphere of democracy and political pulse had been set up by the State and its tolerance due to some international or domestic requirements in those years. Also, the critical and alternative media has always been marginal and less circulated.

Then, there must be other reasons of the negative correlation, i.e. negative media effects on politics apart from its historical roots and its position against the State (Establishment). Although I will not elaborate in detail, here are some other explanations on this crucial democratic process:
Depending upon heavily on the States patronage, the press (and the media) has not seen as a profit making business. It has always been either an ideological vehicle or an agent of producing other profitable enterprises. So, it is always a lather to climb to another tree. Without this economic incentive, the Turkish media is always a seeker of support of some kind from the State. This vicious circle brings about unqualified and unethical journalistic values and way of producing media content.

Loosing its communicational and informational function to the customers, the media have not preoccupied with its technical circulation and transmission problems. In 1965, there were 3 million copies of newspapers sold daily and in 2002 the number is still the same. When you compare the two years in terms of population growth, literacy rates, gross national income, propensity to buy, power of consumption, etc., it can reveal the dramatic decrease of print medias geographic and population wise coverage.

It is the similar case with broadcasting. The transmission quality and coverage of television stations are very poor. When you compare the State owned TRT with other private channels, it is clear that private channel can only cover the advertising markets but not the whole electorate public. For example, TRT has 7000 transmitters spread out 98 % of the geography and 99 % of the population. On the other hand, TGRT which has the largest coverage among the private channels has only 700 transmitters, concentrated on the West part of Turkey and on the advertising markets. It covers only 65 % of the geography and 60 % of the population approximately.

Being very dependent on the States financial supports and having poor coverage further create some interesting consequences.

Leftist or rightist, the mainstream media of Turkey has a very strong liberal market economy rhetoric (which has been the ideology of the State for last 50 years of the Republic). The articles, the news, the editorials, all of the content of the media are aimed at efficient and profitable capitalistic (modern) society. But, contrary to liberal market economic rules and laws, the Turkish media itself is a big subsidised sector (indirectly from the government and directly from other industries) that does not produce any profits for at least 25 years. The last 10 years, most of the media holdings owned by Banking sector, but nearly all of them had bankrupted and used their financial capitals gained as deposits to finance their unprofitable media outlets. The public perception of this paradoxical situation blurs the vision of media consumers and the trustworthiness, which is the main effectual variable in communication, vanishes.

Another reason why the media do not produce any significant political effects is also related to the financial weakness of the media. After 1983, the media had invested to high press and broadcasting technology with state-of-art machinery, equipment and office buildings. In most of the cases, to finance this new technology investments cannot be compensated by the State support or advertising revenues. There came the promotional marketing supports, i.e. selling goods via media as promotion to higher its circulation numbers and viewer attendance. But this innocent strategy at the beginning turned into a very dramatic change in function of the media. It then was no longer an agent of relaying information, entertainment and cultivation of education to the society but became a vehicle to sell goods like a supermarket. This turned the content likewise, as you go thru a supermarket you can find many brands of similar goods, as you flip thru the pages or zap the programs, you encounter with different views, often contradictory to each other in the same medium. This catastrophic and cacophonic content resulted blurriness in the consumer public of media outlets. Ideologically or intellectually, the mainstream media became a spectacular arena but no one, or very few people, can relate to what is going on in the society as seen thru the eyes of the media.

So it lost its very democratic function as being if the voice of the masses (the fourth power) became the miss-numbered eye-glasses given by some media moguls in order to configure what is happening in real life.

Parallel to this development, having organic ties with the financial world, stock-exchange manipulation, speculation of foreign currency and other unethical deeds became normal since the media is not only the stock-exchange market of the values and ideologies but stocks, factories, banks, themselves.

Consequently the media economics was no longer applied. Optimum cost analyses cannot be done (to produce a paper or a program). The economic solutions to the distribution problems of signals and newspapers are out of window. The calculations of cost, distribution and revenues cannot be done properly. In order to overcome with these highly sophisticated problems, most of the media holdings went international and found some media partners, like Rizolli, Burda, CNBC and CNN. But within a very irrational market, these global media giants had nothing to do. When they realize that everything is still done a la Turca, it was too late.

When you start to be the supermarket of information an entertainment in a single newspaper or a television channel, then it is inevitable that you start to blur the limits and structure of medium. Television becomes like newspapers; newspapers become like magazines, magazines become like radios. This development creates another effectual problem which is redundant content bores the politically oriented media consumer public and they allocate less time to watch or read.

However, the crucial factor of them all is the attitude and media illiteracy of mainstream politicians (ie. center left and center right). They do not evaluate the media as the electorate public does, nor do they spare time to think about the above issues. So, first, they do not know how to use media; secondly, most of them are partners with the media moguls financially and they do not care what is going on.

The current situation of the media is revealing enough but within the perspective outlined briefly above, it is by no means that there needs to have a very thorough content analyses of the last election in television and press and see how media affected the voters in order to shed some light of the future construction of the new media in Turkey.

Nowadays, still nothing has been learned by the owners (holding companies) who are restless as well as the media managers and editors, in a very hostile competition with each other carrying their insulting arguments about each other in front of media, but beyond grasping of a rational mind they are still not competing for the market share or circulation but to gain more control on the Party in power and cancel out the rivals power.

Conclusion:

As we have seen empirically, the Turkish media in general appear to be very reverse (negative) influence on the political and electorate public in Turkey, except the State Channel TRT TV, which is highly regarded as the main source of information whereas the other private channels and newspapers are widely seen as tools of entertainment.

Ironically, it seems that influencing the media process is working only between the politicians and the owners (Moguls) of the media. In a nutshell, there is a blunt outcome which the media do not have any persuasive (effective) communication relationship on the electorate public, at least in Turkey. This empirical finding must be tested in different political environments.

As we have seen observationally and empirically so far in this article that the Turkish media in general appear to be very reverse (negative) influence on the political and electorate public in Turkey.

In the framework of media as persuasion and influencing the media, the Turkish media represent anomalism, influencing publics in reverse direction. On the other hand, the same media show some sound empirical support to the Gerbners Cultivation Theory-Hypothesis which asserts that especially television but the other media as well, make a very heavy mainstreaming effect on the political public (Gerbner, 1982; Batmaz and Aksoy, 1995.).

The main reasons why news as persuasion process does not work healthy in Turkey are the publics indifference to political content, and lost feeling of thrust to the media which ends up that, media is widely evaluated by the masses as a manipulative agent.

On the other hand, the influencing the media process is working only between the politicians and the owners of the media. Thus, there is a blunt outcome which the public and the media do not have any persuasive (effective) communication relationship leaving the large electorate public out in Turkey.



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