When the watchdog becomes a lapdog

Istanbul Kent Savunmasi

If anyone still doubts the value of an independent media, acting as a “watchdog” on behalf of the public, they only need to look at today’s Turkey.

The ‘captured’ media in the country has no interest in the welfare of society anymore.

The lack of public scrutiny not only leads to less transparency and accountability, but it also worsens institutional inefficiency.

Nothing exemplifies the Turkish pro-government media’s failure to hold the government to account better than the present debate about disaster preparedness.

Due to its geographical and geological characteristics, earthquakes are the most common natural disasters in Turkey.

Istanbul, its largest and the most crowded city, is in a first-degree earthquake zone.

18 years ago, on 17 August 1999, Turkey was hit by a powerful earthquake, killing at least 17 thousand people, according to official statements.

Most of the casualties resulted from the collapse of poorly constructed residential buildings. The death toll and devastation were exacerbated by the failure to enforce building codes in earthquake prone areas and the slow, inefficient palliative effort after the disaster.

On the 18th anniversary of the 1999 earthquake, The Kandilli Observatory gave a fresh warning that an earthquake with a magnitude stronger  than 7 should be expected to hit the Marmara region again.

An even starker warning came from the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB), which said that 7 million houses out of nearly 22 million across Turkey would not survive a possible high-magnitude earthquake.

İstanbul, a city of up to 18 million people, is particularly vulnerable, not only because it has a large volume of code incompliant buildings, constructed with poor materials and workmanship, often located on landfills; but also, because many areas previously designated as earthquake shelters in the city are now being used as shopping malls and business centers.

A social media campaign, launched by The Istanbul Civic Defense NGO this week, is encouraging people to write to their local administrations to ask where they are supposed to assemble.

A booming construction industry, closely controlled by the government and managed for immediate profit, has been a trademark of the AKP government. Despite assurances by authorities, several mega-projects, including tunnels and bridges, have yet to be tested in a major natural disaster.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is also raising questions about the special earthquake taxes that have been collected since 1999 and where they were spent.

Apart from a handful of opposition outlets, the Turkish media has been deftly evading the issue.

Instead, their coverage is all about emotional speeches by politicians at the commemoration events and red carnations laid at earthquake monuments.

As in every remembrance since the devastating tremor, we are once again reminded that “Istanbul is no better prepared for an earthquake than it was back in 1999”, without being told “why”.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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