The state-run Anadolu news agency and the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) have been acting in recent years more and more like a mouthpiece for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), a stance in stark violation of their requirement as public institutions to report and serve the public in an objective way, critical media outlets and opposition parties have said.
In the most recent example of biased coverage by Anadolu, the news agency announced in a statement on its website on Tuesday that it had stopped providing news reports to the Taraf daily due to an allegedly slanderous report about Anadolu published by the daily before the local elections on March 30.
Anadolu had not informed Taraf of its move before posting the news on its website.
In the statement, Anadolu accused the daily, which subscribes to the news agency, of not publishing a correction it had sent to Taraf to be published regarding a March 29 report about the news agency. The news agency cut off all trade ties with Taraf, it announced in the statement.
The Taraf daily included Anadolu’s actions in the report it had published. Tafaf’s report claimed that Anadolu was acting in the government’s interest when giving out local election results.
The Taraf daily said it would take the issue to court, accusing Anadolu of issuing the statement without first informing the daily of the subscription cancellation. “Without first officially informing us, it [Anadolu] announced it had stopped providing reports [to Taraf] by informing persons who are not party to the contract, the media and the public in a statement. This is a violation of the contract [between the two companies]. We will seek legal action to protect our rights,” Veysel Ok, Taraf’s laywer told Today’s Zaman.
Opposition parties have long complained that TRT and Anadolu, two public institutions that are financed by public funds — that is, by taxes paid by Turkish citizens — have turned into official media organs of the ruling party.
Yusuf Halaçoğlu, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is planning to submit a written parliamentary inquiry to end the public’s financing of Anadolu and TRT. “Now that these institutions work like a media organ of the government, they should not be financed by taxes obtained from the people,” he told Today’s Zaman.
Halaçoğlu, who did not sound hopeful that the biased approach of the two institutions could improve in the short term, drew attention to the fact that most of the Turkish media is under government control and is subject to censorship.
“Under these circumstances, it is not possible to expect Anadolu to be any different. What in the world was the general manager of Anadolu doing at a party’s headquarters on election night?” Halaçoğlu asked.
The MHP deputy’s inquiry recalled reports that Anadolu’s head, Kemal Öztürk, paid a visit to the AK Party’s headquarters on the night of the local elections.
The claim was voiced by Gürsel Tekin, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), at a press meeting he held late on election night: “At this moment, Mr. General Manager of the Anadolu news agency is having a meeting with Cabinet ministers and AK Party officials on the third floor of the AK Party’s headquarters. I strongly denounce that!”
Although Öztürk had previously denied the claim about visiting the AK Party’s headquarters by having Anadolu publish a photo of him with a group of reporters at an Anadolu agency office on election night, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç confirmed on Wednesday that Öztürk had, in fact, paid a short visit to the ruling party’s headquarters.
“If, judging from Taraf’s report, Mr. Kemal Öztürk — who is head of a news agency — paid a 15-minute visit to the AK Party headquarters, what’s wrong with that?” Arınç reportedly asked in a statement to Anadolu. The deputy prime minister defended Öztürk, saying that a visit from him to the AK Party’s headquarters would not be wrong as he is a journalist and not a civil servant. “It is not unbecoming for a journalist holding an [official] press card [to pay a visit to a party’s headquarters]. In my opinion, that is actually something that must be done,” Arınç added.
The deputy prime minister, whose area of responsibility includes the Anadolu news agency, dismissed claims of Anadolu’s biased reporting. “This is slander; we just reject that,” he said, maintaining that Anadolu had reported on the elections objectively.
Anadolu seemed to favor the ruling party while reporting election results; it first reported data from those city districts where the AK Party is strong, thereby giving the public the impression that the ruling party was way ahead in the elections.
In contrast, according to data provided by the Cihan news agency — which suffered a cyber attack on election night — in the first hours after the ballot boxes were opened, the AK Party did not have a huge lead in some provinces, while in others opposition party candidate were actually in the lead.
Members of opposition parties claimed that the AK Party influenced Anadolu to do this and hoped that by so doing, representatives of opposition parties assigned to monitor proceedings at polling stations would stop and leave because they would be disappointed by the “apparent victory” of the ruling party as demonstrated by election results in the first hours. This would then pave the way for the AK Party to rig the elections, opposition members claimed.
“In recent years, the two public institutions [Anadolu and TRT] have acted as if they are the official media outlets of the ruling party,” Sezgin Tanrıkulu, deputy chairmen of the CHP, told Today’s Zaman. Due to the cyber attack on election night, Cihan, a leading news agency in providing previous election results, had difficulty providing election results as fast as Anadolu.
The cyber attack, which also occurred against the Zaman, Today’s Zaman and Taraf dailies, began as early as last week and gained momentum on March 30, when Turkey headed to the ballot box for the municipal elections.
Cihan announced on the evening of March 30 that it was being attacked by “hundreds of thousands of computers” in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, in which hackers bombarded the agency’s website with requests, causing it to slow down and crash. The agency was working to report the initial results of the elections to its subscribers when it was attacked. According to Cihan, the motive behind the attack was to render the agency unable to report the election results. Taraf’s website is still down.
In recent years, TRT has also come under harsh criticism from opposition parties on the grounds that it largely favors the ruling party in its broadcasts. Tanrıkulu noted that TRT, which is a publicly owned broadcasting company and should be neutral, gives the ruling party many more hours of broadcasting than it gives all the opposition parties together. “TRT and Anadolu have been, in the past couple of years, making reports that give false impressions about the opposition to the public,” Tanrıkulu maintained.
TRT was also sent a warning message in February by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) for biased broadcasts among political parties. During the local election campaigns over the past three months, TRT gave the lion’s share of its campaign coverage airtime to the AK Party, leaving Turkey’s opposition with little chance to get their messages to the public.
Over a 12-day period between Feb. 22 and March 2, TRT allocated 13 hours and 32 minutes of campaign coverage time to the ruling AK Party, but a total of only 95 minutes to the three opposition parties represented in Parliament, according to a recent report by RTÜK.
The report showed clear violations of Turkish broadcasting law, which prohibits the TRT from engaging in “one-sided and partial” coverage of election campaigns.