Kemalism 1940

The First Congress of the Turkish Press
By Asim Süreyya

Source: La Turquie Kemaliste , nos. 32-40, August 1939-December 1940;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

The origins of Turkish journalism go back to a far more recent past then that of other countries. It was in 1831 that under the aegis of the authorities the first Turkish newspaper, Takvimi Vakayi appeared. The main idea behind its publication was that of enlightening what we today call “public opinion,” a reality it was then not possible to formulate.

It was to the initiative of Agha Effendi, the most original and sympathetic figure in the history of our journalism, that we owe the Tercümanı Ahval. After having successively been student at the medical school, functionary at the Sublime Porte and in the provinces, it was he who in 1877 created as a private enterprise the first newspaper worthy of this name. From this point on true journalism went through a period of development that lasted almost twenty years. Unfortunately, this period of growth suffered a serious eclipse during the reign of Abdulhamid II, a monarch refractory to any idea of intellectual and cultural progress.

The leaders of the republican regime pay especial attention to the press. A law, that of the press association, was published in order to allow journalism to develop morally and materially. Thanks to this law, which went into effect in July, along with the first Congress of the Press, professional unions can be established among journalists bound by strong ties of solidarity.

The speech delivered at this congress by the minister of the interior Faik Öztrak is rich in meaning concerning journalism and freedom of the press. Here are a few passages:

“Authorized individuals have defined the important role of the press in concise terms. Some have even said that it constitutes the fourth force of the state. For our part, we do not share in such a definition, for we don’t believe in a differentiation among powers, but rather in their unity, which is personified in the Grand National Assembly. Nevertheless, we feel it would be best if we stress the importance of the press by recognizing it as an associate in our task and our responsibility, since we assume in common the responsibilities of the affairs of the country and the nation. And so, a free but serious press, which respects the higher interests of the country, is a pillar which a civilized and healthy administration cannot do without.”

In fact, in all democracies it is customary to reserve, alongside legislative, executive, and judicial functions, a preponderant place to the press, which strives to control the correct functioning of the public service.

Under our republican regime the press enjoys a different concept: it is not only an organ of control, it also a force that, in parallel with the state, bears heavy responsibilities incumbent on the latter.

After many years of difficult trials under regimes of absolute and constitutional monarchy, the Turkish press has finally reached the level expected of it. The law of the press association was adopted not only to defend the interests of journalism, but also to allow it to freely develop while being conscious of its duties and responsibilities. We are firmly convinced that Turkish journalism will accomplish its task. And so, we formulate our wish that the first congress of the press association marks the beginning of a new period in the development of our journalism.