Increasing political pressure on Turkish media

Increasing political pressure on Turkish media

“Turkish governments have always tried to put pressure on media and manipulate them,” said Fatih Altaylı, the editor-in-chief of Habertürk newspaper. “The amount of pressure increases with the increasing power of the governments. There has never been so much pressure as there is now.”

Altaylı said this and more during a live TV interview on the CNNTürk news station on Feb. 10. He was invited onto the show because of a series of tape recordings that have leaked onto the internet in recent days, revealing government pressure on both the Habertürk newspaper and the TV broadcaster under the same name.

Another Fatih, Fatih Saraç, actually plays a key role in the tapes, which are widely regarded by Turkish public opinion as showing the pressure and manipulation on the media of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.

In one of the recordings, Erdoğan allegedly calls Saraç (from Morocco) during the Gezi protests in June 2013, requesting that he remove the screen banner on Habertürk about a call from opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli for President Abdullah Gül to use his authority and intervene in the crisis. In a second recording, Saraç phones a Habertürk TV editor and asks for the immediate lifting of the banner, which is then done.

(Altaylı said on CNNTürk that he regretted his exclusive interview with Erdoğan during the Gezi protests, which had been seen as an “image laundering” effort on behalf of the PM. Altaylı said it was the PM’s press office that had suggested the interview and he could not say no. “I am the flesh and bone form of the pressure on the media in Turkey,” he said.)

In another recording, Saraç (a University of Mecca graduate businessman with no background in journalism) and Altaylı discuss a public opinion poll that they ordered from the Konsensus research company. They think the MHP votes are high enough to annoy the government, so decide to talk to Konsensus in order to take 2 percent from the MHP and add it to the results of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has been in dialogue with the government for a political solution to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish issue. Later on, Saraç phones the PM’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, to tell about the solution they have found and asks him kindly to convey this information to the PM.

(During the CNNTürk interview he was asked by the host, Cüneyt Özdemir, about this tape. Altaylı said it was true, but some parts had been cut out. )

In yet another recording, Saraç allegedly talks to Yalçın Akdoğan, the prime minister’s chief political advisor. The subject is again a speech delivered by Bahçeli in Parliament. Akdoğan asks Saraç why they are running the speech live. Saraç apologetically says they were watching Meclis TV (a public broadcasting service that gives parliamentary sessions live via state run TRT) and rebroadcasting it. Akdoğan allegedly keeps bullying: “You’re talking about Meclis TV. We’re trying to get rid of it.”

(Akdoğan said via his Twitter account the next day that he had not given any instructions for the closure of Meclis TV, which he has no legal authority over anyway. He writes columns in two pro-government papers, one under a nickname, and almost all news stations quote his articles every morning as an unwritten rule.)

A number of newspapers, not only pro-governments ones, did not find any news value in the words of Altaylı in their editions the next day, Feb. 11.

When main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started to play the recordings of phone conversations about the unregistered funding of another pro-government media group, including Sabah newspaper and ATV station, by businessmen who had won giant tenders from government, almost all news stations refrained from showing it live. This despite the fact that they had done so for Erdoğan’s lengthy speech beforehand. Some of them returned to broadcasting it after Kılıçdaroğlu completed the recordings section.

Both Bahçeli and Kılıçdaroğlu said in their speeches yesterday that the Erdoğan government was putting pressure on the media.

The Turkish media is far from living its golden age nowadays.