Private Space as a Means of Public Discourse

"I don't like violence and never threw a stone, but when I arrived and there were barricades everywhere and cars were burning [...] it was neccessary. Without the damage no one would listen to us! I am thankful for that! We had to go public."

The above quote is taken from the scribblings of Christopher Schafer, one of the artists showcasing work at the Istanbul Bieniale exhibition this autumn. The quote is taken from a number of articulate scrawlings from inside his notebook during the Gezi protests.

"Go public" was a choice phrase. I highly doubt that in the midst of the initial carnage of the protests Schafer was aware that the meaning of public space would be the concept of that fall's Bieniale exhibition. It most likely wasn't, demonstrating in itself, the cultural success of the movement.

In fact, in a direct correlation to the suppression of dissent in Taksim over the last few months, other aspects of public space have become notably more and more exploited as mediums of oppositional expression.

Ironically, this has not just been in the public commons itself, online and in protests and cafe gatherings of groups like the formative Gezi Party, but through the private sector advertising realm of billboards, televison commericals and newspaper adspace where expression is traditionally a buyer's market.

The first noticable use of this has been from women's rights group KaDer. The group has funded billboards and advertising all around Turkey with the stalk black and white image of the  Prime Minister and two opposition leaders with sticky notes on their foreheads saying "don't forget the women candidates!".

The campaign intends to draw attention to the fact that during the last council elections in Turkey in 2009, only 26 councils were appointed to women candidates. With the next council elections looming in three months, the group intends to keep women's representation on the main parties' agendas.

Of the country's biggest media outlets, Hürriyet and Zaman (opposition and Gülenist, respectively), advertising too, has made use of the current protest and discontent prevalent in all quarters of Turkish society to achieve readership, albeit in divergent ways.

Hürriyet is an opposition newspaper generally positing a more mature manner of opposition than the ulta Kemalist Sözcü and Cümhüriyet - though it is not immune from hyperbole and uncontextualized quotes.

It's advertising campaign, under the slogan 'Hürriyet Benim' or 'Freedom is Mine', has been extremely effective. It's beauty is in that it, whether on great billboards in the city or on TV advertisements, has bearly mentioned hürriyet itself, as the logo is no where to be seen. The several adverts all reach out towards various unsatisfied factions of Turkish society, with different captions of liberal character; a cameraman stating 'I can share my work with the world', an underage bride with the text 'I can be considered a child' and a disabled woman saying 'I can live wihout impedment'. Most interestingly, considering we are talking about Hürriyet, is the Kurdish youths represented particularly strongly in their TV advertisement who state 'I can be born into another language'. 

Zaman, in their typicalşy non-direct confrontational style, have well-and-truly been piped to the post by Hürriyet. The advert, shown below, shows a riot police cop and protestor reading the paper together under the caption 'It's time for brotherhood' (a play on words - 'zaman' meaning 'time'). The headline says 'There is another possibility... What's the use in fighting?'.

At first the ad was simply tongue in cheek, as there is no way Zaman, with its staunch support of the government over the years, could hope to tempt a large Gezi readership. However, the ad now, just a couple of weeks after it first appeared, is already embarrassingly out-of-date, because by now, Zaman's Gülenist owners have broken up with the government following a legislative attack on their schools, and scandalous revelations that Erdoğan had been out to break their power from the start.

On a more negative note however, given all parties are preparing for the up-coming local elections, the billboard owners have shown signs of clamping down on such reference to opposition. CHP Deputy Chairman Umut Oran announced yesterday, that Ströer-Kentvizyon had  “censored” a billboard campaign by the party which read, “If the citizen is paying taxes, the government will give an account! Call to the Prime Minister: Do not hide the Court of Accounts reports from Parliament. Do not disregard the will of the people!”

Oran, apparently quoting the concern of the advertisers, said the response was that, “You are criticising the Prime Minister too much”, and added that “This (Ströer-Kentvizyon) company which is known for its closeness to the AKP, and which has a dominating position in the market, has shown the presumption to interfere in political discourse.”

Oran has tabled a parliamentary question to Prime Minister Erdoğan demanding to know if Ströer-Kentvizyon CEO Murat İlbak was given any instructions to refuse the ad, and whether or not the Inter Publicity Services firm has ever been brought before the Competition Authority for anti-competition. Only by following opposition tabloids are we likely to find out the result of the case in no uncertain terms.

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