Confiscating newspapers – one booty at a time

Confiscating newspapers – one booty at a time

If you were surprised to see daily Zaman, one of the largest newspapers in Turkey, confiscated by the police last week, then you must be an outsider to Turkish politics. This was actually something that we all expected. It is just the latest step in a long process —  the Long March, if you will, of our new revolutionaries. 

First, let me get a few facts straight. Zaman, for sure, is no ordinary paper. For more than two decades, it has been the voice of the Gülen movement, Turkey’s largest Islamic community. It is also true that this community, besides its civil society work on education, charity and inter-faith dialogue, also got engaged in Turkey’s bitter power struggles through its “invisible hand” in the bureaucracy – especially the police and judiciary. There are serious allegations that certain police officers and prosecutors committed serious crimes – such as illegal wiretappings and doctored evidence in the witch-hunts against the enemies of the group. It is also true that Zaman, at times, acted as the “propaganda base” of these witch-hunts. 

These are things that government supporters will tell you these days. But there are also things they will not tell you: The so-called “parallel state” of the Gülen movement acted only in an alliance with - and with the full support of – the Justice and Development (AKP) government in those pre-2013 witch-hunts. It only became a “terror organization” after it exposed massive corruption in the ruling party, due to a new power struggle among the winners.

The right thing for the AKP to do would have been to acknowledge its own sins and put the alleged the criminal members of the Gülen movement on trial. But of course it opted for the wrong thing, by venerating itself and declaring the entire Gülen movement as the “enemy within,” initiating a new witch-hunt against it. As a result, all assets of the movement – banks, companies, media outlets – are being confiscated one by one. Four months ago, daily Bugün was taken, and now Zaman is gone too.

However, this story is not just about the attempted destruction of the Gülen movement. It is also about the subduing of all effective opposition voices in society and making the government’s propaganda the dominant narrative in Turkey. 

That’s why when newspapers are confiscated, they are not just confiscated. They are also transformed into unabashed pro-government outlets. They join the large and ever-increasing “pool” of newspapers whose sole job is to venerate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and demonize his enemies. 

Moreover, this confiscation business is also taking place on another level: The economic level. Over the past seven years, at least seven major centrist Turkish newspapers magically turned into pro-Erdoğan mouthpieces. The magic was in the economic suffocation of their bosses. These bosses either had to sell the papers to new bosses, (who all turned out to be best buddies of the president), or accept giving the whole control of their media to president-approved “charge of affairs.” 

Apparently those who rule Turkey today see the media as a war zone, in which every victory gives them the right to collect new booty. They take the spoils of war and share it among themselves. An outsider might feel that here we have hordes pillaging and looting a country merely because they have the sharper swords.