Turkey: Media clampdown foretold

Turkey under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come much closer to a format of despotism, with police raids targeting mainly the media: the Zaman daily and the STV channel.

It was an operation given the disguise of “the formation of structures against the sovereignty of the state of the Turkish Republic”– as stated by the prosecutor — and was clearly foretold.

The alarm came three days ago from a Twitter user writing under the pseudonym of “Fuat Avni” who is obviously well-informed about Erdoğan’s inner circle, revealing that a clampdown was in the making and claiming that “fear had gripped the rulers due to the anniversary of Dec. 17 and 25 graft probes.”

The mysterious source implied that the operation would seek revenge against Zaman and other news outlets regarded by Erdoğan as being part of the “parallel structure” and declared — without any evidence so far – of being the culprits of acts against the state. Once more, the source proved to be right.

If it is true that Erdoğan and his close circle are anxious about the anniversary of the graft probes, it explains why the media groups are on his radar screen as enemies.

It is a known fact that both the Zaman and Ipek media groups — with outlets such as newspapers Zaman, Today’s Zaman, the STV channel, the Bugün daily and Bugün TV — have been very bold and consistent in their detailed reporting about the two massive cases of bribery and corruption that have shaken the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for 12 months — along with secular, critical, independent newspapers such as Cumhuriyet and Taraf. One should take it for granted that they — as the remnants of the media exercising their freedoms in Turkey — will continue to report it.

Yet, what makes the media affiliated with the Gülen movement — a faith-based social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen — targets in Erdoğan’s eyes is that they address a huge audience, one that is pious and sensitive about what is moral and what is not. It has also surfaced lately that Erdoğan and the AKP government seem to have lost more than 10 points in popularity, now at about 37 percent, according to a pollster that prefers to remain anonymous “due to the delicacy of the situation.”

It is also an open question whether or not there is unity within the government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about the raid. While some politicians such as AK Party Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş or Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu defend it, another key figure and a party founder, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, signaled otherwise. When asked about the tweets of the whistleblower Avni, Arınç used the expression, “If true, it is grave.”

Since last December, Erdoğan has formatted his counter-strategy to the graft probes as a “coup attempt” against his person. The latest raid also bears signs of the suspects being labeled — on “reasonable suspicion” (!) — as having been plotting a coup.

Yet, as our colleague from the daily Hürriyet, Taha Akyol, who is a lawyer by profession, reminded us yesterday, the claims have no evidentiary basis in fact. Akyol also quoted Hayati Yazıcı, who defended Erdoğan in the famous poem citation case as well as others in the past, who said a while ago, ‘It is very difficult to describe the Dec. 17 and 25 graft probes as coup attempts.” Not surprisingly, Yazıcı, once a key figure in the AKP, had to leave the government, and now is out in the cold.

So much for the context, helping us understand how murky everything has become in today’s Turkey, where the law is under the absolute command of the executive more than ever before.

Erdoğan also seems to have calculated that due to the long-term allergies of some ultra-secular segments and the military to the Gülen movement, the operation would have legitimacy and gain approval. On the contrary, it may backfire: The main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is now on the offensive, and is articulate when speaking about the raid. What its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said yesterday points to a clear position and an escalation in the coming weeks.

“It is a process not compatible with those of any democracy,” he said. “This process is a coup. One should not act according to the identity of the underdog. We are on the side of the oppressed. That journalists would be arrested and TV channels raided is never acceptable to us under any circumstances,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s events leave no doubt about Erdoğan’s steady move toward the destination of autocracy, in which there will be no room for critique, dissent, or accountability. The raid is, no doubt, a severe blow to what remains of free and independent journalism. Soon, we will be left with none.

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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