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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs