Pressure mounts on media along with stress in Turkish politics
Hürriyet is Turkey’s most influential mainstream newspaper. It is the elder sister of the Hürriyet Daily News, both being parts of the Doğan Media Group. Other members of Doğan Media are a popular mainstream TV channel (Kanal D), a news channel (CNN Türk), a prestigious web journal (www.radikal.com.tr), a best-selling popular newspaper (Posta), a sports newspaper (Fanatik), a number of magazines published in cooperation with the Burda-Rizolli group, and numerous websites. Hürriyet also has a financial partnership with the Germany-based international publishing group Axel-Springer.
On the evening of Sept. 8, a crowd of hundreds was brought - some of them in lorries - to the front of the Hürriyet office building in Istanbul, where they started a protest against the paper that turned violent in minutes. Private security guards and an insufficient number of police officers were just able to stop the crowd from breaking its way into the building, but considerable damage was inflicted on the entrance of the compound. After a tense hour, the crowd was pushed back with difficulty by the police.
A limited police unit had been waiting there in the newspaper compound, because an attack on Hürriyet had also been carried out less than two days before on the night of Sept. 6. That first attack, which also damaged the building with stones and sticks, leaving frames of broken glass and doors, was led by Abdurrahman Boynukalın, the head of the youth branch of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and also a member of parliament. Later on, Boynukalın said he had not thrown any stones but tried to calm the attackers chanting slogans in praise of President Tayyip Erdoğan and against Aydın Doğan, the founder of the Doğan Media Group.
But in his speech, supposedly delivered to calm down the crowd, Boynukalın can be seen saying that all opposition to Erdoğan and AK Parti was only to prevent extra executive powers being given to Erdoğan through a constitutional change, and vowing that “regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 1 election” they would make Erdoğan that strong president. He also pledged that when Erdoğan becomes the strong president he wants to be, there would be no place for Doğan in Turkey “like all other terrorists,” including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The day after the first attack, the Doğan group filed an official complaint at court against Boynukalın.
The two attacks took place after President Erdoğan strongly criticized Hürriyet for deliberately “distorting” his words on the need for “400 seats in parliament,” thus providing the opposition parties with material to use against him and the AK Parti. Hürriyet has accepted that it made an unintentional mistake in its manner of presenting the breaking story on its website, wrongly linking it to a terrorist attack by the PKK in Dağlıca on the Iraqi border that killed 16 Turkish troopers. The editors retracted and replaced the story within 10 minutes.
Later on, following an inspection by the paper’s ombudsman, Hürriyet said just hours before the second attack that it was sorry for its unintentional mistake, but it seems that the second group of attackers was already on its way to Hürriyet by then. And “regret” seems not enough for President Erdoğan, who demands an open “apology” from a paper that was violently attacked twice in a row within 48 hours.
Only after national and international reactions against the attacks did the Istanbul police take six suspects into custody on Sept. 9 in relation to the attacks, saying they were in the possession of two illegal handguns.
On the previous night, the Istanbul headquarters of the pro-government newspaper Sabah also experienced a physical attack when some nationalist protestors threw water bottles and stones. Meanwhile, also on the night of Sept. 8, many offices of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including its HQ in Ankara, were raided in arson attacks by right-wing mobs who heavily damaged them, accusing the HDP of harboring PKK terrorism.
Following those attacks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu posted a message asking the police to take extra measures to protect the offices of political parties and the media, and expressed his disapproval of the attacks on the media. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş was the first government member to openly condemn the attacks on the media, expressing sorrow over them and in a sense acknowledging the mounting pressure on the media in Turkey.
The country is heading for the Nov. 1 re-election in a particularly strained political atmosphere, with political leaders calling for calm but continuing to attack each other - perhaps with the current exception of Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Whatever happens, pressure on the media certainly does not help the situation.