When I pulled over to the nearest gas station in my neighborhood, a pump attendant approached and asked me which newspaper I would like to have — Milliyet or Radikal? While I was mumbling something in astonishment, he had already dropped a copy of free Milliyet in the back seat of my car and returned to his pumping job. No wonder I was being pampered by Doğan Media Group newspapers, since the same media conglomerate had shares in this particular oil company (PO) along with an Austrian energy giant, OMV. I could not help myself but think how two well-known and respected editors-in-chief of those dailies, İsmet Berkan and Sedat Ergin would feel about that. Milliyet and Radikal are not trashy papers like many others in the country. There are considerably good and experienced reporters and columnists who have been worked in the past and are still working for those newspapers. But treating their newspapers like freebies in a gas station must be humiliating for those editors and self-respected journalists. Or have I just been too naive? Milliyet has a daily circulation of 195 thousand and Radikal is suffering for quite sometime with a modest circulation of 38 thousand. Nevertheless those two newspapers are targeted to an educated, urban, middle class, liberal minded elite obviously with an additional feature of being a car owner.
“What a weird world,” I thought. Between 1988-1996, the Turkish newspapers were in a giveaway frenzy, running promotional campaigns, offering free stuff on a wide scale varying from cookwares to a small size aircraft and a BMW. I still vividly remember waiting in line for hours to get a crappy make-up set for my mother after collecting dozens of coupons or a China made luggage that we would never use. Everybody was buying newspapers for their giveaways rather than the paper itself. Cypriot businessman Asil Nadir was the king of the media world then. Aydın Doğan was also a rising star in a business venture where the generation of true editors and journalists were long gone. At the end of the 19’/80s, the readers had already become customers and seduced by the increasing consumer culture. The content of the newspapers did not matter to them. As soon as one promotional campaign ended, they switched to another newspaper for another free product.
Eventually, a Constitutional Court ruling in 1997 banned all periodicals from offering anything other than “educational” products to stop this frenzy. Nowadays, the newspapers are offering free learning laptops for kids, free DVDs, encyclopedias, and books. The irony here is in the past free products were coming with the newspapers. The actual purchase was seemingly done for the newspaper. But now, newspapers are handed to us at the most unlikely spot as a by product alongside with a few gallons of gas.