Pro-gov’t media apathy towards Berkin’s death turns into cynical smear campaign

While hundreds of thousands of people bid farewell to Berkin Elvan, who was hit in the head by a police tear gas canister during the Gezi Park protests last summer and lost his battle for life on Tuesday, the pro-government media’s apathy towards Berkin’s death has turned into a fierce smear campaign against other dailies that reported the event in their headlines.
In its smear campaign against the Zaman daily, the Islamist Yeni Akit daily accused Zaman of exploiting the death of Berkin, who had been in intensive care for nine months and was just 15 years old when he died, instead of sharing in the pain that has devastated the whole country.

While Berkin’s death united all segments of society without discrimination, such as leftists and rightists, Yeni Akit and several other partisan newspapers, including Yeni Şafak, considered the incident an opportunity to attack the sensitivities of the society with insulting headlines. On its front page, Yeni Akit used the provocative subheading “Abusing Time,” referring to Zaman’s headline “Berkin reduces Turkey to Tears.”

Having adopted a partisan stance towards embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) since a graft probe became public on Dec. 17, 2013, and shook public faith in the government, Yeni Akit has preferred to use its headlines to attack any segment of society that raises the question of the graft allegations’ basis in fact, as well as targeting dissident voices in the media.

Instead of mentioning the farewell tributes the Turkish people paid to 15-year-old Berkin on Wednesday, Yeni Akit reported on Erdoğan’s election rallies in the southeastern cities of Bitlis and Bingöl in its main headline and targeted Zaman for reporting on Berkin’s funeral. In its report, Zaman had commented that Berkin was buried amid tears. Berkin’s death sparked nationwide protests and thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government.

Yeni Şafak also adopted a hostile stance towards those attending Berkin’s funeral, accusing people of “participating in terrorist incidents” on Wednesday night after the funeral, in reference to the nationwide protests staged against the government’s apathy towards Berkin’s death and the failure to take responsibility for the incident.

Focusing on reporting specific clashes between the police force and a few marginal groups’ limited aggressive actions, Yeni Şafak failed to share the pain that was felt across the country. Using a provocative headline, “Mourning by day, terrorizing by night,” the daily fuelled the tensions in society to assist the government’s drive to stifle the corruption scandal.

Other pro-government newspapers, such as Sabah and Akşam, also failed to reflect society’s united stance on Berkin by playing down the effects of the boy’s death, whose only crime was being in the street at the wrong time, across Turkey through small reports in their pages. The dailies had seemingly agreed to use the same fabricated story about a “parallel structure” in their headlines, along with stories on Erdoğan’s election rallies in various cities. Both dailies have targeted Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement that he inspired.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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