Gov’t unhappy with West hearing those who rock the boat
A new tendency actually started after a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on arrested journalists in Turkey, released early in 2013 before the summer’s Gezi wave of protests.
When the CPJ revised its earlier report and increased its count of the number of Turkish reporters behind bars, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan became furious, and the Justice Ministry and other government bodies started to investigate who the CPJ had spoken to in Turkey during the writing of its report.
The tendency increased following the Gezi protests. As foreign, especially Western academics, diplomatic observers, think tank scholars and news crews were coming to Turkey for their reports, the government became more curious about who they were talking to here. When they found out that Western guests wanted to listen to people who would not repeat Erdoğan word-for-word, they became even more upset.
The tendency escalated a level after the corruption probe of Dec. 17, 2013 due to government moves to restrict media freedom, including putting bans on access to Twitter and YouTube. The two sites had been conduits of leaked tapes of telephone conversations regarding corruption allegations involving government figures and businessmen and media personalities close to government. At this level, the curiosity focused on those Turkish academics, journalists, and think tank members who were invited to diplomatic lunches and dinners and even press conferences. Were they inviting those who rock the boat to speak about the violations of rights in Turkey, or were they telling the “truth” about Turkey, where everything is going fine and democratically?
Now we are at a stage where government people are intervening in gatherings organized by embassies, Western think tanks and universities in order to learn who is invited, and where they are trying to have names close to the government added in order to repeat what the government is already telling them. Those who ask unpleasant questions to those diplomats, politicians, academics or are giving unpleasant information about what is already happening are being identified in pro-government media by their names, making them open targets.
A gathering of the U.S. assistant secretary of state with a group of Turkish journalists is a very good example of this. A “who said what” game has started on the pages of newspapers about this supposedly “background” meeting.
Now, public diplomacy people from the government are trying to find out who Freedom House spoke to during the writing of its report that placed Turkey among the countries with no freedom of the press.
I never felt comfortable with such gatherings of large numbers of people anyway. I also know that there is no off-the-record or background in practice if there are more than three people involved. I am also not comfortable with being seen as an “informant,” not a journalist, by any government.
This new tactic is obviously to deter Western observers who have concerns about the situation of rights in Turkey from reaching out to decent news sources, by sending loyalists to them instead.
This is not the way to prevent the spread of real news around in a pluralistic society in Turkey. The water will find a way to flow to the open seas