Erdogan and the media: Do most Turks even care?

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When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered his re-election victory speech last week – he spoke of “one nation, one flag, one state”. He could have taken it a step further and talked about one media and one voice – his own. Because that’s the way the election campaign was covered.

The main state-owned TV channel TRT acted as if it was state-run; and privately-owned broadcasters weren’t much better.

One might ask, what actually constitutes critical coverage, or the opposite, a lack of objective analysis. The latter may be defined by TRT’s apparent priorities throughout the month leading to the election, devoting 67 hours of airtime to President Erdogan and less than seven hours to rival Muharrem Ince. 

But some believe this is the natural course of news, especially where someone already prominent, such as the president, is campaigning. 

“It’s the nature of the beast. If you’re the president of a country not only you’re campaigning, you’re also running the country,” says Jane Kandur, columnist, Daily Sabah. “So you are more in the news anyway. Muharrem Ince was not much in the news before he became a candidate, President Erdogan was.”

Journalists really failed to come together on the principle of press freedom.

Mehvis Evin, journalist, Art1 Haber

Others also maintain that responsibility for the seemingly one-sided coverage cannot solely be placed on the media themselves, as within a political context at least opposition candidates have long conceded to the status quo in Turkey, for a variety of reasons; not least of all, the way Erdogan and his AK Party have made headlines for their treatment of journalists and news outlets.

Since coming to power in 2003, Erdogan has overseen a re-structuring of the country’s media space. Hundreds of journalists have been jailed and more than 100 media outlets have been shut down, accused of terrorism.

“Everybody loves to just put the blame on the media, because Ince said the media has failed,” says journalist Mehvis Evin. “OK, it’s true. But also, this is not news. It didn’t start with his candidacy. It was like that for a long time. And maybe opposition leaders should also ask themselves, how did we get here?”

However, history proves that the media does have a significant role in the way the media landscape has evolved.

The Dogan Media Group was once the biggest media conglomerate in Turkey, known for giving different voices a space to live in an otherwise heavily censored environment. The consequent stifling and selling of the group soon put an end to that.

“The purchase of the Dogan Media Group to fiercely pro-government Demiroren family should be seen as a political move,” says P24 journalist Yavuz Baydar. “Dogan Media Group was giving a lot of space to diversity of opinion, somewhat large public discourse of different voices et cetera. When it was gone to the other family, Turkish media seizure to my mind was completed.”

“When Dogan Media Group was being targeted, large bulks of the Turkish media sort of enjoyed this battle,” continues Baydar. “When the Kurdish newspapers were closed down, the other segments of the Turkish media kept silent. When Zaman Group, which is affiliated with Gulen movement, was brought down, the others felt the same way. This is what I call sickness of the Turkish journalist corps and it continues today.” 

But for all the criticism from abroad – from NGOs, the European Union and others – Erdogan took 52 percent of the presidential vote. Whether the debate over Erdogan and the media even registers with Turkish voters – for tens of millions of them it doesn’t seem to matter.

“Some terms for the large majority, such as ‘freedom’, ‘rights’, these are too abstract,” explains Baydar. “Particularly middle and lower middle classes of Turkey are much more focused on economy, the pocket, the daily life and the family. That’s why freedom of media, freedom of expression, all of these issues are left only for journalists, for intellectuals.”

Source: Al Jazeera News

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