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How victims’ families are abused by the media 13 Eylül 2009

Süreyya Karabulut left a saw covered with red paint in front of the Garipoğlu family's business. A clearly agitated Karabulut railed at the media, saying: “Leave me in peace. I haven't slept in 48 hours. You do me no good.” He also commented that when he demanded 3 million euros from the Garipoğlu family, it was with the intention of donating it to a foundation that helped people suffering from multiple sclerosis.

“Leave me alone, I haven't slept for the past 48 hours. Ask me a question kindly and I will answer it. If more than three questions are asked, I will swear at the fourth reporter.

Don't ask me questions. Those who love me should stay here and those who do not love me should leave. Cameramen, please stop recording. Don't make me shout,” cried Süreyya Karabulut, an angry father with a flushed face, a man whose daughter was brutally murdered early this year.

He was speaking to an army of reporters before staging a protest in front of Garipoğlu Holding last week, which is owned by the family of Cem Garipoğlu, the prime suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Münevver Karabulut.

Münevver Karabulut's decapitated body was found on March 5 inside a bag thrown into a dumpster in İstanbul's Etiler district, while her head was inside a guitar case on top of the bag. Police have been searching for Cem Garipoğlu, the prime suspect in the murder, for the past five months. Some believe the well-connected Garipoğlu family helped him flee the country despite heightened security measures taken by Turkish police at the borders.

Since the murder, Süreyya Karabulut has frequently been in the media and on television programs and had received the media's support as “a father seeking justice” until he demanded 3 million euros from the Garipoğlu family so as to settle the controversy surrounding the murder. From this point on, the media, which had kept supporting his struggle for justice, turned on him and declared him “persona non grata.” Meanwhile, Süreyya Karabulut, being so much under media attention and talking about his daughter's murder over and over again, lost his temper and began to act “crazily” in the eyes of the media.

On the day he staged a protest in front of Garipoğlu Holding, the murdered girl's father left a saw painted red in front of the holding which symbolized the saw Cem Garipoğlu used to decapitate Münevver Karabulut's body. The next day, the story was in the newspapers again with the headline “Süreyya Karabulut went crazy.”

“People who experience such big traumas [as the loss of a child] may undergo physical, mental and emotional outbursts of different levels from time to time. Trying to influence their behavior, judge and question them and make them speak on the incident constantly, will cause a second trauma,” said Yeşim Türköz, a clinical psychologist from the Turkish Psychological Association (TPD) as she commented on Süreyya Karabulut's latest outburst.

On why the media later attacked Karabulut even though they supported his cause from the very beginning, she said the media seek news that will draw attention, but there are no settled criteria for this and there is intrusive journalism in Turkey rather than unobtrusive journalism. “So journalists first prepare the groundwork for the news in a provocative way and then go for a news hunt. Where there is a hunter, there is always prey. The important thing is to differentiate between journalism and hunting. Victims embrace every move which gives them hope, but what they need is real support, not just applause,” noted Türköz.

Süreyya Karabulut is not the only person in Turkey who was first treated like a “pop star” and given daily coverage by the media and then became a target of it. Semra Yücel, one of the contestants in a game show named “Will You Be My Daughter-in-Law?” in which mothers choose a wife for their sons from among the women participating in the show, is another figure who suffered from the focus of the media. During this show, which was broadcast by Show TV in 2005, Yücel always made it into the newspapers and on TV screens with her opposition to her son Ata Türk's marriage plans with one of the contestants. The polemics and quarrels Yücel engaged in with her son and her son's girlfriend were in the news every day. After the end of the show, her son did not marry, but Yücel's popularity and fame grew increasingly and she even began to a present a TV program and pose for shiny photos in magazines. The media's interest in Yücel suddenly turned into dislike and contempt when her son Ata was found dead in a hotel room in the southern province of Adana after taking drugs. She was immediately declared to be guilty of causing her son's death and condemned for not taking care of him. But Yücel still continued to draw attention from the media by saying she would like to run for the local elections that were held earlier this year.

According to Barış Önen Ünsalverdi, a psychiatrist at the Memory Neuropsychiatry Center in İstanbul, media attention results in pleasure for individuals because only when they appear in the media do these individuals, who felt themselves to be “invisible” before and suffering from a lack of self-confidence, feel “visible” and important. “They want to preserve this situation and so do something new every day to draw more media attention,” she said.

Another such media victim was Gülten Kızılkaya, whose husband, İsmail Kızılkaya, was stabbed to death by a woman, Zeynep Uludağ, after allegedly being sexually harassed by Kızılkaya in a bar in İstanbul's Kumkapı neighborhood in 1995. In this incident, media and women's organizations supported Uludağ and said she was innocent and should be released. The case turned from a murder case into a case about women's rights, with women's organizations saying women should be able to go to bars freely without fearing men's attempts at harassment. After a while, the media noticed Gülten Kızılkaya, a conservative woman, and turned its attention to her, paving the way for her lifestyle change. Gülten Kızılkaya posed for sexy photos for some magazines and became a singer.

“There are so many life stories that the media recklessly cover and manipulate, it would not be possible to include all of them in a newspaper. We have a media which has no ethical concerns and does everything necessary for ratings,” complained Zaman daily columnist Mehmet Kamış in one of his columns last week, citing these incidents when the families of the victims were abused by the media for ratings.