News / Europe

Corruption Scandal Tests Turkey's Cowed Media

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media in Istanbul, Feb. 3, 2014.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media in Istanbul, Feb. 3, 2014.
Reuters
Dozens of their colleagues are in prison or on trial, thousands of faceless opponents hound them on Twitter, and phone calls from government officials warn them over their coverage - all hazards of the trade for Turkey's journalists.
 
Government critics who refuse to be muzzled can find themselves sacked. Others avoid trouble, such as the broadcaster which screened a documentary on penguins last June while police sprayed thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul with tear gas.
 
What has erupted in the past few weeks - a probe into alleged corruption at the heart of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government - might seem like a gift to Turkey's cowed and long-suffering press.
 
But, with a few exceptions, much of the press is in no position to capitalize on the scandal by taking a more robust line with the government.
 
The scandal has blown open a feud between Erdogan and the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a powerful former ally whose “Hizmet” (Service) movement has influence in the police and judiciary, as well as parts of the media, and whom Erdogan blames for orchestrating the graft probe to unseat him.
 
“Gulenist” newspapers such as Zaman and Bugun, previously loosely allied to Erdogan's AK Party, have reported details of the allegations, from pictures of cash stuffed in shoe boxes to damaging phone recordings between businessmen and Erdogan's associates, something almost unthinkable just a few months ago.
 
Pro-government newspapers like Sabah, Star and Yeni Safak have largely portrayed the corruption investigations as a plot against Erdogan.
 
In the middle is a mainstream media, largely owned by sprawling conglomerates with business ties to the state, which has been cautiously trying to find a more assertive new voice, although its ownership structures cast doubt over whether there can be real change.
 
“The graft probe is a new opportunity for Turkish journalism to push itself out of suffocation,” said Yavuz Baydar, one of Turkey's most prominent journalists who launched Platform 24, a media monitoring website, on Monday.
 
“The question is whether major, conglomerate-owned outlets such as Hurriyet and Milliyet will be able to rise up to the challenge,” he told Reuters. Milliyet declined to comment while the editor in chief of Hurriyet did not respond to emailed requests.
 
Baydar lost his job at Sabah, whose former owner Calik Holding is run by Erdogan's son-in-law, after criticizing the police crackdown on anti-government protests last June.
 
Sabah was sold in December to Kalyon, a construction group with major government contracts, in a deal that typifies the ownership structures in Turkey's media landscape.
 
At least a dozen newspapers and 10 TV stations are owned by conglomerates with energy, construction or mining interests, all sectors heavily dependent on government business.
 
“This has created a situation in which media outlets are used to promote the ownership group's financial interests,” U.S.-based press watchdog Freedom House said in a report published on Monday.
 
“Members of the media and the government alike describe newspapers' Ankara bureau chiefs as 'lobbyists' for their companies,” it said.
 
Better not upset Sir
 
Erdogan has described the corruption investigation as an attempted “judicial coup”. He has reassigned prosecutors and judges and thousands of police officers.
 
That has brought the probe to a halt and prompted lawyers, despairing at what they view as a lack of transparent judicial process, to leak court documents to those parts of the press not favorable to the government.
 
But when news website T24 published an article about a parliamentary question from the opposition Republican People's Party regarding claims of bribery in the sale of Sabah and other media assets, it was told to take it down by the media regulator. Then on Monday the same regulator said it had sent the warning by mistake.
 
“We're just trying to provide something different from the 'government newspapers' that publish the AK Party line that this is a coup d'etat,” said Erhan Basyurt, Bugun's editor-in-chief.
 
The paper's circulation went up to 165,000 from 140,000 in the month after the corruption probe broke.
 
Other newspapers have had to be more cautious.
 
A senior editor at one of Turkey's largest dailies, who did not want to be named and fears for his job after his boss was told to fire him, said he had been the subject of a hate campaign on the Internet and in pro-government newspapers.
 
He was followed and threatened, his car-license plate at one point published online, he said.
 
Sometimes he did not put bylines on stories to protect reporters. He also might soften the headline or put material damaging to Erdogan lower down in stories.
 
Restrictions on press freedom and attacks on journalists are nothing new in Turkey. Commemorations of the 2007 murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, widely viewed as a political assassination, still draw tens of thousands each year.
 
But the taboos have changed.
 
Where once criticism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the modern secular republic, or portraying Kurdish militants as anything other than “terrorists” might have resulted in a jail sentence for “insulting Turkish identity,” now it is criticism of the government which is problematic.
 
Editors and reporters said they had received phone calls from officials close to the prime minister asking them to change their coverage or dismiss journalists for critical stories.
 
“The voice on the end of the line that translates to 'Better not upset sir',” said prominent author and columnist Ece Temelkuran, fired from the Haberturk newspaper after a series of such warnings for her coverage of a Turkish air strike which killed Kurdish civilians.
 
“The use of the word 'sir', 'beyefendi' makes your realize straight away what you are dealing with,” she said.
 
Government and AK Party officials declined to comment.

Polarized

Turkey is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 40 in prison as of December, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index ranks Turkey 154th out of 178.
 
The government says no journalist is being held or tried for their work.
 
“They are facing situations like these solely because they have got mixed up in other activities,” a senior government official, who did not want to be names, told Reuters.
 
But government influence, such as the indirect sackings and threat of loss of business for parent companies, which poses the main threat to press freedom, journalists and rights groups say.
 
“The government seems to have acquired the habit of shooting the messenger whenever it is in trouble. Journalists should not have to suffer because of high-level administrative in-fighting,” Reporters Without Borders said in a December report.
 
These criticisms come ahead of local elections in March, a presidential race in August and parliamentary polls next year.
 
Opposition candidates complain that Erdogan's frequent speeches are broadcast live and in full by a slew of television stations, a degree of coverage his opponents do not enjoy.
 
“One of the most pernicious effects of the widespread firings of reporters and editors from the 'mainstream' media is that there are fewer moderate voices to be heard,” Freedom House said in its report.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
February 03, 2014 1:27 PM
The character you have described here is that of a dictator. Well, I have always seen Tayyip Erdogan as one, even if he is called a prime minister. He loves power - the hallmark of Muslim Brotherhood of which himself and Mohamed Morsi are members. Autocracy is deep rooted in the Ottoman empire, and Erdogan is just a little removed from a medieval potentate. This is a man you want to admit into the EU; he is no different from the ancient emperors - unless you have not seen him when he is angry. And remember he had to walk out on a president discussing with him on the sidelines of a UN general assembly. But generally that is what obtains in all of third world countries said to practice democracy. Remember the Nigerian potentates in democratic uniform sacked a CNN journalist for reporting on the Niger Delta militancy? No wonder journalists are afraid to report issues concerning Nigerian government officials. Imagine if Nigeria could sack a journalist in far away USA, what would Erdogan make a mince-meat of journalists within his Istanbul palace?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid