Turkey’s ruling party propaganda machine

Turkey’s ruling party propaganda machine

Listening to some of the statements from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s advisers, or some pro-government commentators, you may find them absurd or even surreal.

One of the president’s chief advisors once went as far as to suggest in 2013 that foreign powers were attempting to “kill Erdoğan with telekinesis.”

If you do not assume that a majority of Turkish society is so ignorant that it immediately believes such nonsense, you may have difficulty understanding how Erdoğan has been able to secure victory in successive elections, surrounded as he is by a team so detached from reality.

That’s normal, because when you look at the propaganda machine of the AKP, what catches the eye does not necessarily depict the whole picture.

There is actually a three-layered propaganda machine working for the AKP leadership.

On the first and most visible layer, you have the mediocre cadre. This is the first line of contact with the public. None of them is a rocket scientist. On the contrary, there is a reason for their mediocre profile. They are part of the message given by the AKP to the crowds: They are ruled not by elites but ordinary people just like them. They look at the “ruling cadres” and say “one of us is there.”

Then you have a second visible layer. In this layer there are hit men and hit women. They have only one main agenda: Conducting smear campaigns against AKP critics, aiming to create a chilling effect on all dissent. Their secondary mission is to muddy the waters and distract attention. 

There is actually another category of people in the same layer. Their mission is to have an amplifying effect on the public. If Turkey, for instance, is at odds with Russia, they vilify Russia. If the government has decided to mend fences with Russia, they explain the virtues of being on good terms with Moscow. 

Then there is a third but largely invisible layer. This layer is the real brain team behind the communication strategies. They use all scientific tools possible to take the pulse of society. They monitor all international and domestic news, using the most sophisticated technology to measures which news and what statements have an impact or go unnoticed in the public. 

There is a meticulously calculated strategy behind every statement made by the president. His statements are not just uttered in a vacuum or in a spontaneous emotional outburst. 

Against this highly sophisticated teamwork stands the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which completely fails to duplicate a similar network. The CHP rightly complains that the ruling party uses all state mechanisms to campaign, and that most lines of communication are closed to it. But the CHP could work to find alternative and more creative ways of getting its message across. It fails to do so, partly because it lacks a communication team that matches the intellectual and technical skills of the AKP’s communication team. 

With such a successful and professional communication strategy, one might think that the AKP would duplicate the same sophistication and professionalism in other policy areas, such as the economy or foreign policy. But this is not the case. Ironically, policy areas like the economy or foreign policy have increasingly become casualties of the government’s communication strategy.