Turkish Newspapers: Newspaper or Tabloid ?

Turkish newspapers are quite interesting, and I’m not just talking about what’s written in them, but how they look, their layout. If you look at some Turkish newspapers, the cover page has short previews of around twenty different stories with a big bold headline in the middle and lots of pictures- some even angled in various directions. It sort of looks like things were cut and pasted onto the cover page. When I asked why this was after visiting a news agency, they said that it is a result of the lack of interest in Turkey to read, especially when it’s about hard news. Which also answered my question as to why pictures of Kim Kardashian and Brad Pitt dominated the cover pages.

A lot of the newspapers here focus more on the entertainment and gossip instead of tackling politics because entertainment news is safe in a country where some journalists have been jailed for writing about politics.

A green city with a black mark

We made headlines last week when we met with the Deputy Mayor of Kocaeli, Turkey – the district with highest national GDP. We discussed the business sector, the environment and the construction after the 1999 earthquake. Click here to read more about our visit. 


Kocaeli is a province involved in an odd dichotomy: it is the most industrious municipality in Turkey as well as the most environmentally friendly – at least, according to Deputy Mayor Özak Zechariah.

The deputy mayor and his translator presenting us with gift bags

Yeah, I was skeptical too.

However, after meeting with Zechariah, it was hard to argue otherwise; especially after drinking Kocaeli’s superb bottled water – bar none, one of the best I’ve ever had- which is processed right in Koccaeli. The water quality reflects the municipality’s water system which is reported to be the world’s largest privately financed water supply project and boasts 7,000 kilometers of underground water tunnels.

Even Kocaeli fish drink clean water now that the local government put restrictions on what nearby chemical, automobile and steel plants can pour into the the Gulf of Izmit, according to officials. For many years, the gulf was fair game and neighboring companies used the waters as their personal waste-basket; as Zechariah put it, “everyone used to know the Gulf of Izmit by its smell.”

But he says the government has worked hard to make the area, along with the entire municipality, more eco-friendly. Ford, Bridgestone, Toyota, Goodyear and others have major plants  in Kocaeli – and Zechariah said they have faced some opposition to their green initiatives. One such initiative is SCADA, a control system that monitors what type of waste companies are putting out; he says Kocaeli is the first and only province using this advanced system.

And he says it seems to be paying off.

“For the first time in many years, we can actually see dolphins in the gulf now,” said Zechariah.

Could it be true? Was Kocaeli really the most industrious and the most environmentally aware? I was one water in, and my skepticism was beginning to fade. Kocaeli’s convincing credentials and witching water had swayed me.

After coming home and doing some research, things got murky.

According to the European Environment Agency, Kocaeli, or more specifically Izmit, is home to Izadas, the only hazardous waste site (there are 3 total) in Turkey to accept waste from a variety of industries across the country. It has the capacity to hold 790,000 cubed meters of waste.

Zechariah failed to mention that.

While this bit of information certainly doesn’t discredit all of their advances, it does make the situation more complicated than their PR-driven facade suggested. I have to say, it leaves me wondering, what else weren’t they telling us?

On the Front Lines

With all the criticism that occurs around the media it’s easy for people to overlook the fact that many journalists are putting their lives on the line each and every day to report the news. Today our group met with Omer Berberoglu from Reuters News in Istanbul. Working as a producer and camera operator for several years, Berberoglu has experienced what it’s like reporting in a war zone. He showed and explained to us the various protective gear that journalists wear when working in these dangerous conditions.

This equipment is not worn all the time when working in war zones, but mainly when on the front lines under the most dangerous circumstances. It takes courage to be able to report in war zones, and Beberoglu said you have to do a cost-analysis on whether or not risking your life is worth spreading the information. While this equipment is somewhat reassuring, Berberoglu said it’s not a 100% guarantee. “Rarely you get killed by bullets, you actually get killed by bombs, and if you’re bombed then you’re done. These (items) are protector vitals, it saves you some time until you’re near a proper medical station.” Berberoglu also talked about how these experiences open your eyes to a whole new reality of what it means to feel secure.

Hardened hat: This is used mainly during riots and protests to protect the head from rocks and coins being thrown.

Gas mask: There are two types, the one displayed below is used against smoke grenades. The other kind is mainly used against chemicals.

Composite helmet and flak jacket: These are both used to protect the body from bullets. The helmet protects against rifles and pistols, and the flak jacket has a bullet proof plate that blocks against guns such as AK-47s and N-63s.

Stab vest: It’s good to protect from stabbing, riots and hand guns.

Crash-course in Turkish comics

Highly sexual, uncommonly progressive and entirely anti-establishment – Turkish newspapers are a haven for radical thought and political dialog.

Ha! Only joking.

This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Journalism in Turkey is monitored to the point that it is now nothing more than a propaganda machine for various political interests.   Currently, there are 95 Turkish journalists in jail and Turkey ranks 148 out of 175 countries on the Reporters Without Borders index. Journalists are afraid to critique those in power, and of even those brave enough to do so face imprisonment and, in some cases, assassination.

But x-rated, anti-establishment material is still widely available in Turkey- just not in writing.

Enter comic books and papers. For years, Turkish comic books have gone surprisingly uncensored despite their overtly political messages; the highly charged and often vulgar comics make New Yorker’s famous cartoons look innocent.

This panel from popular comic Girgir is one of the less offensive images I found. Nudity and sexually explicit acts are often depicted in shocking detail.

Turkish political comics aren’t nearly as popular as they were when they were first mass produced in the 1970’s; Turkey’s most famous comic, Girgir, peaked with a circulation of 1 million in the 1980’s making it the third-best selling comic magazine in the world.

Government opposition – specifically, the military coup of 1980 – hampered the growth and added to the decline of political comics in Turkey.

But comics are very much alive and well today, much to the chagrin of President Erdogan, a favorite target of today’s political cartoonists. Erdogan is beginning (in the past few years) to attack the anti-government publications through lawsuits and fines. Recently, the offices of Penguen were suspiciously torched by unknown arsonists. However, I wish the president luck. No other leader before him has been able to squash the comic phenomena with any real success.

Why is this? For starters, comics can be cheaply and independently produced and are usually very well-liked. They are not newspapers – they do not hold any power in political spheres and they don’t claim to be factual.

But they can make President Erdogan and all of his friends look like fools. They can also talk about openly about sex, relationships and political scandals in a refreshingly blunt and hilarious way.

Not to mention, some of these comics are surprisingly informational- albeit, they are very biased,  but they are still up-to-date. By flipping through one issue of Girgir, Penguen or any other comic, you can learn a lot about the Turkey’s political climate; I learned about two current government scandals just by looking at today’s front pages.

Honestly, it’s perplexing how a journalist can be thrown in jail and a paper shut down for critiquing the wrong person, but comics can explore every Turkish social taboo with much less interference.