What does Erdoğan want from the Turkish media?
“Freedom of Press and Expression in Turkey” was the title of a detailed report released by the Center for American Progress on May 14, just two days before Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. In the report, which mentioned the problem of journalists in prison and “subtle censorship” despite constitutional protection over the media, Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were invited to raise the importance of the issue during their meetings with Erdoğan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
It is true that the issue was listed in the annual State Department Human Rights report and that the U.S. ambassador to Ankara made some careful remarks underlining the importance of a free press in democracies. Yet it is not clear from statements after the May 16 meetings between the U.S. and Turkish parties whether Obama or Kerry, or both, raised the issue of freedom of press and expression.
But it is clear what Erdoğan wants from the Turkish press following the meetings with the U.S. administration – Erdoğan listed them in a press conference in the Turkish Embassy in Washington after concluding his talks in the U.S. capital.
Here is what Erdoğan said:
* “All through the [Syrian] process, even our print and visual media failed to stand against Bashar [al-Assad]. The media should have made more [stories] against main opposition leader [Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party - CHP] who resembled the prime minister of this country as a ‘murderer.’ What if we were not there [to stand against al-Assad?] Would all those massacres not have taken place? Our print and visual media should have [moved] to invalidate the understanding of both the main and lesser [Nationalist Movement Party – MHP] opposition.”
At first sight, Erdoğan criticized the Turkish media for not giving enough support to him and giving some coverage to the criticisms of the opposition parties on his Syria policy. The word “invalidate” is important here, as it shows that even the limited coverage of opposition parties on Syria policy disturbed him; as he said clearly, he did not want to see any coverage from the opposition parties.
It is worth giving a thought in a democratic country when the prime minister tells a group of editors-in-chief that he is not pleased to see the limited coverage they had given to opposition parties when they grilled the government on a major foreign policy issue; especially when 51 people were killed in the Turkish town of Reyhanlı near the Syrian border on May 11, a few days before Erdoğan’s departure to the U.S.
But are Erdoğan’s expectations from the Turkish media only limited to Syria policy? In the same press conference, Erdoğan underlined his determination for a strong presidency. He says that if he cannot have the two-thirds parliamentary support, he will try to exceed the referendum threshold, perhaps with the help of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) partner in the process to solve the Kurdish problem.
Erdoğan hinted that there might be a third ballot, for a referendum in 2014 alongside the municipal elections in March and presidential elections in August.
The messages to the Turkish press come at a time when Erdoğan is preparing for a 2014 critical for the endorsement of his power, having secured the support of Obama on strategic issues.