Ever since the Gezi protests, the public communications strategy of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been based on what elected governments tempted by authoritarianism elsewhere have resorted to: Producing as dense a “fog of discourse” as possible by diverting the agenda from the genuine democratic debate.
This means a tightly embraced method of producing lies. But not just any lies. The untruth, it was apparently argued in closed circles, has to do with what the electoral base of the AKP finds sensitive and “hopefully” outrageous. It has attributes of religion and large-scale conspiracy-making against the very party itself.
It has worked successfully. Based on that discourse, when prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to increase the popularity of the AKP after three months of downfall following Gezi. There were two key elements in this production of lies.
One centered on the mosque of Dolmabahçe, where in the heat of Gezi unrest some demonstrators had sought shelter, barely breathing due to pepper gas. Days after, the machinery claimed that the protesters had brought beer cans into the mosque and drank them while there.
Despite intense debate pumped up by pro-government media, this episode proved to be a fiction. The muezzin of the mosque was heavily interrogated by anti-terror units then and staunchly repeated that he had not seen anybody drinking alcohol. He was soon after removed from his position and sent to a remote mosque in Anatolia.
The second episode was even more spectacular in its alleged content, causing a steady, wild uproar among the cheerleaders of the government supporters nested in the media. As Today’s Zaman summarized, a woman who claimed in an interview to a pro-government newspaper that she and her baby were assaulted on June 1, 2013 by a group of 60-70 protesters, mostly half-naked men who insulted her for her Islamic attire, kicked her baby and even urinated on her at the Kabataş pier in İstanbul.
Erdoğan repeatedly referred to the alleged harassment of the woman, who later turned out to be the daughter-in-law of the mayor of an İstanbul municipality ruled by the AKP, in speeches denouncing the Gezi protesters.
Most recently, a chorus of pro-government columnists — some 15 of them — came out with columns with the same title, raising suspicions that they were given “directives from above.”
The final blow to the machinery of lies came from the police itself. The Cumhuriyet daily reported that after going through some 2,600 hours of video footage from the area, the police had found no evidence indicating an assault.
It coincides with another development that has clearly caused a serious hiccup in the machinery of lies. After being implicated by some reports in pro-government media as an “accomplice to assassinate the daughter of Erdoğan” by communicating about such a plot with the mysterious whistleblower “Fuatavni” through Twitter, Umut Oran, a deputy of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), asked Twitter to produce proof. The 73-page document from the company concluded that no such communication had taken place.
So, exposure after exposure leaves little doubt that not only are the rest of the media campaigns based on “parallel structure” discourse of the same sort but more importantly, the smear-campaign arsenal of the AKP unleashed since the summer of 2013 is now running out of its ammunition of lies. The grounds for making up fiction are narrowing down considerably.
But the crux of the matter is whether or not there is enough room for the independent media to reach the pious chunks of the public. For this TV stations are key, since it is the main source of news for Turkish voters. There are, at the moment, only two or three of them which find any news value in exposing the machinery.
Still, as the truth remains a tough element to chase away, sooner or later, everything used to dupe the faithful citizens of Turkey and the abuses of their sensitivities in the name of Islam will be held to account.