BBC 'concerned' by Ankara mayor's Twitter campaign discrediting its reporter

BBC 'concerned' by Ankara mayor's Twitter campaign discrediting its reporter

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
BBC concerned by Ankara mayors Twitter campaign discrediting its reporter

Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who has been in his post since 1994, is a prolific Twitter user. A number of his tweets had also previously sparked controversy.

The BBC Global News director, Peter Horrocks has issued a statement in response to the Twitter campaign launched by Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek against the experienced BBC Turkish service journalist Selin Girit, expressing the institution's concerns over the recent discourse.

"The BBC is very concerned by the continued campaign of the Turkish authorities to discredit the BBC and intimidate its journalists," the statement by the BBC Press office said.

The statement confirmed that "a large number of threatening messages" had been sent to Girit, and called the targeting of the BBC reporter "unacceptable."

Gökçek launched June 23 a defamation campaign over Girit's reporting via the social media network on a forum held by protesters at a small park in Istanbul.

Row over hashtags

Gökçek, one of the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) most controversial figures who has been in his post for almost 20 years, accused Girit of being an "English agent" and of engaging in "treachery to her nation." He urged his followers to condemn her by sending tweets with the hashtag #ingiltereadınaajanlıkyapmaselingirit ("Don't be an agent on behalf of England Selin Girit"). 

"I want that everyone who loves their country to make the hashtag a trending topic. That way, our reaction will be heard abroad," the Ankara mayor said via Twitter.

Girit had earlier tweeted from Yoğurtçu Park in Istanbul's Moda neighborhood, where people had gathered after the police's tough evacuation of Taksim Gezi Park last weekend. "A proposition from the forum at Yoğurtçu Park: Let's not be the standing man, but the man that stops. Let's stop the economy. Don't consume for six month. They will listen," she had tweeted, prompting Gökçek to lash out at her with conspiracy theories.

"They want to destroy our economy with an agent rented in England, inside Turkey. They are dreaming of Turkey becoming 'Europe's sick man' again. This is the concrete evidence," he wrote. He also repeatedly expressed his satisfaction as his hashtag moved upward through Turkey's most popular trending topics.

Massive indignation and counter-campaign

However, Gökçek's social media campaign caused huge indignation, and support poured in for the BBC journalist in response, with her supporters using the hashtag #selingiritgazetecidir ("Selin Girit is a journalist") and #provokatörmelihgökçek ("Melih Gökçek is a provocator").

The counter-campaign evidently infuriated Gökçek, as he later tweeted that the latter hashtag, which quickly rose to become the number one trending topic in Turkey, was top of the list "on the BBC's orders." He then vowed to sue every user who tweeted with the hashtag, a threat that failed to discourage users from continuing to use it. Gökçek also shared his satisfaction as website news portals covered the affair, sharing all published reports on his account.

Selin Girit has only reacted by tweeting herself that she had been targeted by the Ankara mayor for reporting, and issued an appeal for freedom of the press.