Civil Pages is a recipient of the Izmir Earthquake Emergency Fund. The organisation will carry out monitoring, evaluation and awareness-raising activities on the Research Commission for the Investigation and Determination of Measures Against the Earthquake (Depreme Karşı Alınabilecek Tedbirlerin Araştırılarak Alınması Gereken Önlemlerin Belirlenmesi Araştırma Komisyonu) which was established as a result of the joint will of all political parties represented in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey following the earthquake in İzmir. With an aim to monitor the developments regarding the Commission’s work and promote CSO participation in this process Civil Pages, will prepare a news series on the Commission and will also organise an online workshop to facilitate the involvement of CSOs in Commissions working process. At the end of the project, Civil Pages will also prepare a report on the work of the Research Commission and the participation process of CSOs.
Below is the interview with Civil Pages:
As the Civil Society and Media Studies Association (Civil Pages), you use “civil society journalism” as a tool to highlight the work of all civil society actors more visible in the public arena. What does civil society journalism mean and what role does it have in the media in Turkey?
Civil Pages contributes to the conceptualisation of civil society journalism in Turkey and aims to make the experience of civil society more visible and bring together advocacy activities from different fields and identities. Furthermore, one of the operating bases of civil society journalism is the principle of social responsibility to report rights-based events to raise awareness for the relevant agendas of civil society organisations. Civil Pages’ core aim is to strengthen the visibility and impact of the civil society actors in Turkey in order to increase their capacity to influence public opinion.
Due to structural problems and pressures, traditional media in Turkey has distanced itself from this purpose of responsibility towards society. Rights-based journalism is generally carried out through new media streams, which we also call alternative media. Available research shows that traditional and central media mostly cover CSO activities superficially and they do not produce content that makes the experience of civil society more visible.
While Civil Pages makes the experience of civil society visible to the media, public administration, opinion leaders, and other CSOs through civil society journalism, it also serves as a medium for representatives from civil society to participate in existing public debates and start new discussions.
You recently published the Civil Society Almanac in the Pandemic/2020. Can you tell us why you prepared this almanac? Can you share with us the highlights about the impact of the pandemic on civil society in Turkey?
Our aim for preparing the Civil Society Almanac in the Pandemic Process/2020 is to record the work of civil society organisations (CSO) in what turned out to be a very difficult year. The economic, social, and psychological reflections of the ongoing pandemic and related processes are intensely felt by the CSOs. 2020 has been a troubled year especially for the organisations that are mainly working face-to-face and on the field.
The impact of the outbreak on civil society is twofold. In other words, the pandemic affected both the people working in CSOs themselves as well as their work. We observe that local CSOs have difficulties in adapting to the digital world due to their insufficient capacity. The impact is not only on the employees of CSOs workers but also all on the CSOs in an institutional capacity. Since the last year, CSOs have not been able to hold their general assemblies due to the circular published by the Ministry of Interior. These restrictions also caused various other problems. CSOs working in various fields have faced a “new normal” at a multitude of angles such as the economic difficulties they face, the restrictions due to curfews and their imminent need for digitalisation. All local and national CSOs, regardless of their sizes, are trying to find new and creative solutions to their problems.
During this period, as Civil Pages, while closely following the problems faced by civil society, the needs that developed in this process, the proposed solutions, and new methods; we witnessed that CSOs were able to stand strong despite the crisis in terms of both identifying problem areas and finding solutions. During the outbreak, we tried to make the work of CSOs visible and open up space in the new media for them. With the workshops we organised, we provided a space for information sharing among CSOs about the impact of the pandemic and ways to tackle the challenges that came with it.
Civil Society Almanac in the Pandemic/2020 once again demonstrates how important and comprehensive the efforts of civil society have been during the COVID-19 pandemic. This almanac is a small summary of the work done in the field, the projects carried out, the research done by civil society in Turkey. We believe it will also serve as a record of this period.
What kind of work do you carry out with the grant we provide under the Izmir Earthquake Emergency Support Fund with the co-financing of the Turkey Mozaik Foundation and the Kahane Foundation? Can you tell us about the #SallanmadanHazırlan campaign and its goals?
Our project focuses on monitoring, advocacy, and reporting. Our goal is to make sure that civil society organisations follow the work of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Earthquake Investigation Commission (Earthquake Commission) established in the Parliament after the Izmir earthquake. Our aim is to create a platform where CSOs are able to support the commission with their relevant expertise and their work. The commission is expected to take measures to reduce the effects of earthquakes which means that CSOs can make policy recommendations. In order to contribute to this process, we aim to create a monitoring study that will enable both CSOs working in the field of disasters and other CSOs with several areas of expertise to communicate with the Earthquake Commission, to monitor the commission’s activities, and to increase their awareness for contributing to the activities of the commission for the next 4 months.
To raise awareness on the subject of earthquake preparedness we are organising a social media campaign titled #SallanmadanHazırlan. We aim to ensure that the public sector, the private sector, and the civil society go beyond disaster response activities and employ an approach where they also take initiative in carrying out necessary preventive activities. We will support the involvement of CSOs, other than those who were already invited, either by getting invited to the Commission or by contributing externally. Within the scope of the project, we will organise a workshop to discuss the current relationships within the triad of civil society organisations, public institutions, and political actors regarding disasters and we will talk about what can be done to strengthen this relationship. Furthermore, once the Earthquake Commission prepares its report, we will also evaluate this report. Finally, we will prepare content on Civil Pages about what CSOs can do before and after earthquakes to minimise fatalities and other damages.
What are the working principles and duties of the Earthquake Commission? How can civil society organizations be involved or contribute to the work done by the commission?
We have prepared a wide range of news on the Civil Pages on this subject. “The Parliamentary Investigation Commission Established to Determine the Measures That Can Be Taken Against Earthquakes and the Measures That Should Be Taken to Minimise the Damages of Earthquakes” was set up on 10 November. The commission is expected to be active for a 3-month term and a period of 1 more month can be added if deemed necessary. Numerous motions on earthquakes have been rejected by the government in the last 17 years. For the first time, with the joint decision of all political parties, a commission was established due to the destructive consequences of the Izmir Earthquake and the public reaction. We believe that this is an opportunity which needs to be used very well. The mandate of the commission will end on March 10, 2021 and they will prepare a report.
With this report, the commission aims to identify the problems related to earthquakes and to make concrete suggestions to both the parliament and the executive body. This report should not stay on dusty shelves and the recommendations should be implemented in line with an action plan. Since they have limited time, the commission may not be able to meet with every CSO. However, they state that they are open to contributions both online and by mail. CSOs can contribute by sending their recommendations to the commission using their right to petition and they can also request a meeting.
CSOs can send their proposals to the commission via email to firstname.lastname@example.org , by calling 0 (0312) 420 53 88-90 or via fax to 0312 420 53 77. As Civil Pages, we are ready to include all of their earthquake-related work on our website. Therefore, they can also share the information sent to the commission with us.
In cases of earthquakes and disasters, interventions by CSOs usually focus on search and rescue activities and emergency aid. Your project offers a longer-term approach, focusing on CSO involvement in decision-making processes. Can you share with us the role this approach can play in becoming more prepared for future earthquakes?
As Civil Pages, we believe in the importance of active participation of CSOs in legislative processes and we conduct monitoring and awareness-raising activities on this issue. We previously prepared a report on CSOs’ rights to petition to the Parliament commissions. Our monitoring work aims to discover why the right to petition is not used as much and we offer recommendations to increase its practice. In Turkey, CSOs usually take steps to cancel or regulate the laws after they are adopted. However, there are opportunities to be involved in the work of the Parliament in the law-making process. This is very important for CSOs in terms of participating in the decision-making and law-making processes. However, even though the law is somehow accepted by the majority, it is also important to measure and analyse the social effects of the law. The Presidential System made the Parliament’s legislative and supervisory functions more important but reduced the Parliament’s influence against strong executive power. The Turkey Grand National Assembly’s (TGNA) relationship with CSOs in terms of sharing knowledge and experience in the legislative and supervisory processes is very limited. There are too many regulations that need to be made regarding the participation of CSOs in the TGNA processes. There are also practical and perceptual obstacles to overcome. However, despite all the structural and perceptual problems, these channels can be used if desired. The fact that animal rights defenders have been involved in the formation of the Animal Rights Law from the first day constitutes an important example. Disasters and emergency situations are a topic that comes to the agenda only after they strike. However, if the necessary precautions are taken, it is possible to prevent losses caused by disasters, especially earthquakes by creating a disaster plan that includes all the institutions and by making improvements in legislations and laws that regulate the construction industry. Especially in light of the effects of the climate crisis, our preparedness for disasters becomes even more important. Although we see that preparedness for disasters is generally related to the influence of the public, it is a situation where the contributions of civil society in terms of monitoring, discovering problems, and advocating will be essential. It is necessary to benefit from the social and economic expertise and social access of civil society. It is important that the CSOs take the initiative in disaster preparedness as much as they prioritise participation in post-disaster intervention and coordination. CSOs and civil initiatives draw attention to the problems of accountability and lack of governance, which are the leading causes of loss of life in disasters. Here, every political party has a duty. Even if the decisions are taken by a majority in the Parliament, they can follow the issue through the speeches on and off agenda in the general meetings of the Parliament and press conferences. They can also carry out lobbying activities to call and propose written motions at the Commission meetings.
About Civil Society and Media Studies Association – Civil Pages (Sivil Toplum ve Medya Çalışmaları Derneği-Sivil Sayfalar)
Civil Society and Media Studies Association – Civil Pages (Sivil Toplum ve Medya Çalışmaları Derneği-Sivil Sayfalar) aims to make the experiences and work of civil society organisations in Turkey more visible to the public authorities, media, and other CSOs through civil society journalism. Thus, Civil Pages provides a platform to the representatives of the civil society where they can start or participate in discussions, share ideas and express their opinions. In this context, Civil Pages draws attention to both thematic and cultural diversity existing in the civil society area in Turkey as well as emphasising its diversity.