Hürriyet and President Erdoğan’s words on ‘400 deputies’

Hürriyet and President Erdoğan’s words on ‘400 deputies’

No piece of news, no title of a story can be the justification for attacking and vandalizing a newspaper office, with chants of “We will torch you like Madımak.” (Madımak is a hotel in the eastern province of Sivas where 35 mostly Alevi intellectuals were burnt to death by an ultraconservative mob in 1993.) Unfortunately, an online headline and a tweet regarding the words of President Tayyip Erdoğan were made an excuse to attack Hürriyet. What’s more, the attackers were from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and an AKP deputy was also present.

The aftermath of the attacks is equally sad. While the Office of the Prosecutor launched an investigation of Hürriyet’s tweet, there was no investigation of the attackers nor was anyone detained. Unfortunately, certain pro-government media outlets and journalists, instead of opposing this attack, preferred to support it. 

Knowing about a mistake is the right of the reader

We are journalists. Despite this dark picture, we have to go back and assess the situation about the story and its title, which were used as an excuse for this attack. If there is a mistake, it is the priority that Hürriyet readers are informed of this; it is their right. I am writing this piece to inform our readers.

Was that title and story wrong? Before answering this question, I need to sum up what happened Sunday evening. President Erdoğan was interviewed on a live joint broadcast of ATV and A Haber; the talk started with the terror attack at Dağlıca, in southeastern Turkey. Host of the program Melih Altınok asked Erdoğan, right after his evaluation of the attack, “The words that you uttered at the opening of a metro before the elections, ‘I want 400 deputies,’ are said to have been effective on the transformation to this environment of clashes. What do you think about this?”   

It was a very timely question. Altınok echoed a criticism that was current and gave the opportunity to Erdoğan to answer this criticism. Erdoğan’s answer was the following: 

“It is not possible to understand this. Showing 400 as a target, in reality, is for making a new constitution, so that it can be made, built – so that we can easily step toward the New Turkey on the basis of this new constitution. This is such a target. On the other hand, we should also see this: How can we explain the fact that the destruction by those who have 80 seats in parliament have caused more destruction [now] than when they were much weaker in the parliament? We experienced the Oct. 6-8 protests; we experienced the Suruç incident; we experienced the Diyarbakır incident. There is no need to send the bill to other places here. All of these were nothing but imposing the evil of terror on our country. This evil of terror is the result of a solidarity and cooperation. They gain extra profit here through terror. This is what they do. If one political party had been able to reach 400 seats or enough seats to write the constitution, the situation would have been very different today.” 

Erdoğan’s answer, making a correlation between the latest terror attacks and the 400 deputies discourse, was made into a story for a short period of time at hurriyet.com.tr, with the title “Dağlıca statement from Erdoğan.” 

The story, on the other hand, was shared on Twitter with the title “#Dağlıca statement from President Erdoğan: ‘If 400 deputies were taken, these would not have happened.’” 

Following this message, there were many tweets shared on Twitter saying Hürriyet’s title was wrong and Erdoğan’s words were “used for provocation.” Upon the increase of aggressive and insulting tweets, Hürriyet’s tweet was deleted and in a couple of minutes, the story and the video were updated. 

Meanwhile, the television live broadcast was continuing. After a commercial break, the host of the program, Altınok, argued that Hürriyet’s website had distorted the words “If there were 400 deputies” and asked Erdoğan to clarify his words on this matter. I wrote the first part of his speech myself; Erdoğan’s answer, however, I took from Anadolu Agency. Erdoğan answered this as a summary: 

“… There, I explained that for a new constitution in Turkey, for the need of Turkey, for a new structuring, we need such a picture [of seat distribution] in the parliament. This is what I did and what is the aim of this? The aim of this is political stability; a determined administration. What happened? No such picture came out of the ballot box. When such a result did not come out… Look, in this period, from June 7 to today, we have had a chaotic environment in our country.” 

Erdoğan did not stop there and used phrases filled with insults and contempt for Doğan Holding’s honorary chair, Aydın Doğan, and Hürriyet writer Ertuğrul Özkök. 

Now let us ask what would have happened and what would not have happened if “400 deputies were taken?” Let us take Erdoğan’s own words to understand what he meant. One: With a new constitution, he would have easily taken the steps he wanted to in Turkey. Two: The chaotic environment that has emerged since June 7 until today would not have been formed. The evil of terror would not have been created.   

As you can see, Erdoğan does not say, for the terror attack in Dağlıca, that “If 400 deputies were taken, this would not have happened;” these words are not the answer to the question on that matter anyway. However, Erdoğan is using these words in a wider sense, for all terror incidents that have happened since June 7. He argues that if 400 deputies were achieved, these attacks would not have happened. Let us not forget that ultimately, the event at Dağlıca is also one of these terror attacks Erdoğan is referring to…

However, again, journalism requires noticing this nuance. The title “President Erdoğan’s #Dağlıca statement: If 400 deputies were taken, these would not have happened” does not reflect the difference. Also in the first version of the news, host Melih Altınok’s question on “400 deputies” following Erdoğan’s statement on Dağlıca was not included. Thus, his words on “400 deputies” seemed as if they were said about Dağlıca. In their initial formats, the tweet and the story also were problematic. As a matter of fact, in its updated version the question was added and Erdoğan’s answer was posted in full text. This was correct; it should have been written as such initially. 

Speed cannot be any excuse for mistakes 

The Hürriyet website noticed the significance of the words of Erdoğan, which meant “If 400 deputies were taken, the chaos and terror environment would not have happened,” and showed a journalism reflex by highlighting them rapidly. However, the requirement of online journalism to act swiftly cannot be justification for such a mistake. I do not think it is an intentional mistake. In this example, a mistake stemming from conveying the information to the reader as fast as possible is in question.

Despite this black picture, what falls on Hürriyet is to continue its reporting, unaffected by the attacks and undiscouraged by pressures. Let some of the pro-government media disregard the “if 400 deputies were taken” stance of Erdoğan and make up excuses for the vandalizing, flag-burning attacks on Hürriyet.