Omer Madra

Ashoka Fellow
Turkey,
Fellow Since 2004

Citation

This profile was prepared when Omer Madra was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Until very recently citizen action in Turkey has been met by severe government scrutiny and even now citizens fear that speaking their opinions openly on certain subjects may result in rebuke or worse.
Omer, who was a member of the “’68 generation” of student reformers in Turkey, has helped to strengthen democracy in the fields of law, journalism, and human rights throughout his career. Over the years and in many countries, he has observed the important role of the media in fostering democracy; yet here in Turkey, he saw that its machinery was controlled by the State or, more recently, driven by profit. Furthermore, television, radio, and journals did not offer citizens an opportunity to really participate. Publicly sharing strong perspectives on certain topics—Muslim headscarves in public school classrooms (the Turkish state is strictly secular), the Turkish military’s actions against the Kurdish people, for example—would (and still will) land a person in jail.
To open dialogue and encourage citizens to share ideas, Omer launched the country’s first listener-supported public radio station in 1995. Since then, he has steered the effort from its beginnings with ninety-two “founders” backed by a small group of loyal listeners and contributors to a significant effort involving hundreds of volunteers and reaching thousands of listeners from all walks of life. Now, the station broadcasts to the greater Istanbul area, and attracts listeners who tune in to learn and participate in its quality offerings: volunteer-run programs on culture, art, history, music, as well as on more sensitive topics such as citizenship responsibilities, censorship, the role and nature of the media in Turkish society, the implications of eventual EU integration on law and domestic policy in Turkey.
Omer has used the radio to encourage people to get and stay involved in the democratic process. And he has succeeded. Listeners affect public policy, as was evidenced recently by a radio campaign that inspired national debate on Turkey’s involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq. On a less overtly political front, volunteers share information on the air about promising citizen initiatives, involve young people in all aspects of programming, and offer listeners a deep sense of connection to other listeners who may or may not share their views, but who do absolutely share a commitment to dialogue and open exchange.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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