MEDIA AND POLITICS
Turkish Anchorwoman Admits Gov’t Sway Over Picking Guests on TV
Sirin Payzin, a former anchorwoman at CNN Turk, confesses that the selection of guest contributors was recently shaped by the government. But her confession is too late, too little.
A famous journalist offered a scathing account of the mounting political pressure on Turkish media from a personal angle. “The blacklisted figures was relayed by our Ankara bureau chief,” Sirin Payzin, a former anchorwoman and moderator in CNN Turk, recently revealed in an acknowledgment of the government’s extended sway over the editorial policies of the channel over the past decade. Payzin noted that politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) were banished from programs at the behest of the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) Party. She confessed that the selection of guest contributors had increasingly been imposed by the government since 2015.
Her recent revelations might be designed to arouse public sympathy for her hardships endured during her long spell at CNN’s Turkish offshoot. Instead, it did the opposite as many poured their unconcealed disdain over her willing condoning to such editorial intervention by the political authorities. Commentators, who reflected their views on Twitter, reminded her that she stayed at CNN Turk until her unceremonious leave in 2018.
“They told me, withdraw your signature otherwise we would try you. Then they said, we would fire. I did not withdraw [my signature], I got fired. Like her I suppose? But I could not beautifully pose like this. Never. Probably, I’m not photogenic,” said Sinan Birdal, a research fellow at the University of Berlin.
He was one of the academics who signed a peace memorandum in early 2016 when the Turkish security forces embarked on an urban campaign to uproot the outlawed PKK militants from the Kurdish cities in eastern Turkey. The authorities threatened to fire academics if they refused to pull out from the memorandum. Birdal, who never relented, joined more than 1,000 academics who lost their posts during emergency rule for their unflinching stance. Though some of them later withdrew their signature, most stood firm.
In this jab taken at Payzin, Birdal offers a sharp contrast between sacrifice and condoning when people of different social conviction faced government pressure at certain points of their lives and in different positions, either in media or academia.
Another journalist reminds her self-contradiction by emphasizing that Payzin worked with the lists imposed on her without much fuss. “She says she made programs with the names imposed on her, but there is not a hint of self-criticism.”
After a long career of 18 years at CNN Turk, which uses the brand rights of the Atlanta-based CNN International, Payzin departed from the TV channel whose ownership shifted when pro-Erdogan Demiroren Media Group bought the Dogan Media outlets, including CNN Turk, in 2018. But the anchorwoman’s career survived the change a little longer. She now works in Halk TV, a semi-official news channel affiliated with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
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In what could be regarded as a self-defense treatise, Payzin laid out her struggle to keep the journalistic values afloat amid an onslaught by the government that had escalated since Gezi Park protests in 2013. It even got worse later.
“Since 2013, there has been a tremendous change. But after Selahattin Demirtas’ vow that they would not make Erdogan president, the government’s treatment of media has dramatically altered for the worse.”
In her account, she gave a lot of fight to allow Demirtas and his party lieutenants to take part in TV programs to preserve fairness and diversity among the participants. Yet, her efforts eventually failed to pay any dividends in the face of increasing administrative interference in CNN Turk, something that reflected a change in Dogan’s media management. Dogan, according to a narrative nurtured by his former editors, was usually known for a hands-off approach, giving a greater latitude to the editors to run the affairs of his media empire unmolested. But this rosy portrayal is challenged by some former staff who claim that the media mogul frequently caved in to the pressure of government over concern for his personal business fortunes. In this clash of narratives, Payzin takes a balanced stance, mediating in between, while expressing her gratitude for Dogan who, she claims, was left alone in his dealings with the government. “Dogan did his best,” Payzin says in a bid to salvage the image of her former patron.
In this review of Payzin’s self-review of her time at CNN Turk, it must be noted that no stone was left unturned in the perverted world of mainstream media after the government’s demolition machine uprooted many well-established norms. While self-respected journalists chose exile abroad or took refuge in independent online platforms in Turkey, celebrity figures like Sirin Payzin preferred to remain in their comfort zone for so long until things became unsustainable. In doing so, they unequivocally compromised their moral standing in the process. This deprives the likes of Payzin of moral high ground to portray themselves as victims in a sustained effort to polish their image.
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Germany-based Can Dundar recently saw his properties confiscated by authorities in Turkey. The government shut down 180 media outlets during the emergency rule while condemning thousands of journalists into poverty. Many of the fellow journalists indefinitely suspended their profession amid political persecution and repression. Istanbul-based P24, an independent watchdog that monitors the state of media freedom in Turkey, gives the number of journalists behind bars as over100. Hundreds of decent journalists live in self-imposed exile in various countries around the world. So, the state of journalism in Turkey appeared pretty bleak despite Payzin’s seemingly happy photos during her time at CNN Turk since the mid2010s.
In her self-esteem, she may consider herself as a fighter who unsuccessfully tried to resist the twin encroachment by the Dogan administration and the Erdogan government on the editorial independence at CNN Turk. But the truth is brutal and painful. To us, she remained there as long as she could. She chose her comfort while others suffered. Sirin Payzin is the embodiment of opportunism, careerism, and moral compromise obscured by the false pretense of professionalism and ethical commitment. Her self-embellished narrative may delude herself, but not us.