Throughout his political career, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has all too frequently been stung by the media. The same applied to his spiritual and political mentor, the late leader of the Felicity Party Necmettin Erbakan – and indeed all Islamists. But the current prime minister, ever since the era when he was responsible for the activities of the National Salvation Party in Istanbul – he would go on to become the city’s mayor in 1994 – has been the particular subject of media campaigns, targeting him personally as well as his party.
Media outlets owned by big business tycoons known for their multifaceted links to Washington and the military used to spare no occasion to wage attacks on Erdogan and his mentor Erbakan, who served three times as deputy prime minister and once as prime minister in a coalition government with Tansu Ciller’s Correct Path Party, in late 1997. The media, in coordination with the secular-leaning military establishment, had played a large role in toppling this government back in June 1998, when the younger generation of party leaders, including Erdogan, current President Abdullah Gul and others, mutinied against their leader Erbakan, accusing him of cowardice and of having caved in to the demands of the military.
Since day one in power, Erdogan showed no intentions of delaying his bid to tighten his grip over all state institutions. With luck, and American and European support on his side, he managed to undercut the military establishment. The wrath – or mutiny – of the young politicians proved to be a historical tipping point for Turkey, when they decided to break away from the Islamist Virtue Party, and founded a new one which they christened the Justice and Development Party (AKP). In November 2002, the AKP took power, after Turkey was hit by a sharp financial and economic crisis that almost bankrupted the country.
Abdullah Gul headed the first AKP government, when Erdogan was still serving a one-year sentence. Erdogan was subsequently released, taking over the leadership of the AKP and the premiership. This happened after the new parliament, controlled by his party, succeeded in passing constitutional and legal amendments that acquitted Erdogan on all the counts he had been convicted on and which had hitherto barred him from political work in accordance with the constitution and laws in force.
Since day one in power, Erdogan showed no intentions of delaying his bid to tighten his grip over all state institutions. With luck, and American and European support on his side, he managed to undercut the military establishment. And without the latter, the business and media tycoons quickly forgot their previous hostility to Erdogan. Within a short space of time, the man had managed to secure the support of a large swath of opportunistic liberal journalists, who sided with the AKP, with deals that have since earned these journalists many benefits, both direct and indirect.
Yet Erdogan did not content himself with this support in the media, as other journalists continued to direct harsh criticism against his domestic and foreign policies. Instead, the government enacted laws and fabricated excuses and premises enabling them to throw dozens of journalists in prison, claiming that they were engaged in conspiracies against the state and the government. Erdogan and the government also stepped up their pressure on media outlets, including the press, radios and televisions, instructing their owners to suspend programs that criticized the government, and to fire the hosts of those programs – who went on to be fired in the dozens after the media tycoons decided to throw their lot in with the government, at the expense of the democracy that they purport to believe in.
They also did not hesitate in asking columnists and editors to tone down their criticism of the government. The government then contributed in creating financial or administrative problems for the owners of media outlets. This included terminating contracts between the state and businessmen, or not granting them any new ones, unless they surrendered to the government. Recently even Ankara’s ally Washington has been concerned by this, as well as other Western capitals, which spoke of serious harassment of the media. This is despite the fact that these capitals do not want to disturb Erdogan too much, especially at this stage when the West needs Turkey’s support in the Syrian issue. Cumhuriyet The interview conducted by the Turkish paper with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sparked a new controversy in the Turkish and international media, especially when many prominent Turkish journalists had to cancel their visits to Turkey’s southern neighbor under pressure from the government, which does not want the Turkish people to hear what Assad has to say.
The Wall Street Journal The New York Times Not even the American or British media were spared from Erdogan’s attacks. He called – and before it – “despicable” after they reported on the activities of the Free Syrian Army in Antioch, and questioned the accounts given by Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu regarding the downed Turkish warplane. The majority of media outlets, including newspapers and television and radio stations, which are all privately owned, are now controlled by entities and individuals close or loyal to Erdogan. Because of this, other businessmen had to move closer to the government, in return for large contracts with the state.
To ensure that he will always have the final say, Erdogan is now preparing several new constitutional amendments to curtail the freedom of the media. Today, the media is caught between a rock and a hard place, with the Higher Media Council harassing the media over every issue, no matter how trivial. For one thing, these principles necessitate that the Turkish people be told about all wrongdoings taking place, even if they be perpetrated by Erdogan. According to the latest general election, Erdogan enjoys the support of roughly half of the population of Turkey. The other half are opposed to him, his party and the media he controls, which sees things only from Erdogan’s viewpoint.
Everyone knows that he has taken revenge, and that he will continue to take revenge against the media and journalists, just like he did with the military establishment and the rest of the state institutions which stood against him – until he vanquished them all. Quoting Assad is Now Treason Cumhuriyet The government enacted laws and fabricated excuses and premises enabling them to throw dozens of journalists in prison, claiming that they were engaged in conspiracies against the state and the government.The Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have both attacked the Turkish reporters who quoted President Assad’s statements in , accusing them of treason, because they had questioned the official Turkish account of the Turkish jet shot down by in Syria last month. Erdogan did not stop there. He attacked the leader of the Republican People's Party, Kamal Klijdar Ihsanoglu, calling him an official spokesman for the Baath Party and President Assad.
There were also journalists whom Erdogan railed against, using the harshest and most caustic of terms. Some interpreted this by saying that Erdogan is gearing up for a new campaign to eliminate what remains of the “objective” journalists who continue to criticize the government’s policies at home and abroad, as though he wants the whole media to be loyal to him. Otherwise, the “sword of democracy” will come down on the necks of all those who dare oppose Erdogan and his government. Only a few journalists dare do this anyway. They fear for their lives, after they were threatened, both directly and indirectly. They also face the prospect of being fired from their jobs, and phone and electronic surveillance by the government to boot. The government did not hesitate in jailing one journalist after he wrote a book criticizing the government, even before the book was published.
Should journalist be allowed to criticize the government or prime minister? Tell us what you think below.
© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved