Turkish media now in Erdoğan’s ’backyard’

If the new “freakish” palace in Ankara did not prove it, I wonder what will.

Soon after the launch, a lot of big shots at Turkey’s media conglomerates did know that the gigantic structure, found in a vast green area once seen as the “lungs” of Ankara, was cunningly planned for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s reign as president.

Yet, none of the so-called “mainstream” media dared to go deeper into the legal and financial story behind the palace.

No scrutiny, no public debate, nothing.

Only a handful of tiny print and online outlets tried to make it an issue.

To no avail.

It only started to be an issue when the ugliness in the form of a palace rose, symbolizing a “new order” blended with immense allegations of corruption, greed and nepotism.

“I had no idea about it until I saw it on the front page of The New York Times,” a former American diplomat told me when we met in Washington.


In President Erdoğan’s mind, everything about the media, national or abroad, is clear: They are part of a global conspiracy, masterminded by “forces” that want to see him gone.

It is not surprising that we had another week — last week — during which he continued to bash journalism as the enemy. The pattern leaves no doubt that his attacks on what remains of independent, critical media will continue full force.

Recently a large group of international media monitors were first-hand witnesses of this media-hostile mindset when they met President Erdoğan in Ankara.

“From the outset he went on the offensive, striking a combative posture and attacking media coverage as biased, intrusive and tendentious.” wrote Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“The chief target of his wrath was not the local media — although he expressed plenty of disdain for them — but The New York Times and CNN International. He declared that he would never tolerate insults and said that he is ‘increasingly against the internet.’ If this is how Erdoğan behaves with a group of international journalists, one can only imagine what he says in private,” Simon wrote.

The consequences of what he says in private have so far been very easy to measure.

In the 12 years under Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, the number of journalists who have lost their jobs due to their “resistance” in the name of professional values and defense of free speech is close to 2,000. This number is one of the many findings in a very comprehensive report by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The report, titled “Journalists with broken pens,” says in summary that, with the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and the Anadolu news agency leading the way, more than 75 percent of the media in Turkey is in Erdoğan’s “backyard,” or under control of the AKP.

It correctly focuses on the chief causes of the state of the collapse of Turkish media, rather than simply calculating how many journalists are in jail (the number is falling, now down to 18): “Firings, forced resignations, obligatory retirement, mobbing, … hate speech, self-censorship, public humiliation, discrediting and blocking accreditation.”

Since the Gezi protests, more than 980 journalists have been fired, most of whom never will never be rehired.

Also, the report makes clear that only 4.5 percent of Turkey’s 15,000 journalists are (allowed to be) members of trade unions.

In the typically nonchalant CHP manner, this report is not on the party’s website, let alone translated into English or German.

But there’s more.

A more recent study, published shortly after the CHP report, comes from the Rethink Institute, a Washington-based think tank, and is titled “Diminishing Press Freedom in Turkey.”

It is mainly focused on the past three years of the deterioration. It is a meticulous report, exposing the elements of corruption in Turkish media.

“Media ownership is at the core of Turkey’s freedom of press problem. The government must stop using government resources to restructure media ownership and influence their editorial positions. The government should provide a transparent and accountable public procurement system. [It] must introduce laws limiting media cross-ownership and laws banning media owners from entering government tenders.”

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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