How Turkish CNN ‘insulted’ Erdoğan and got sued

How Turkish CNN ‘insulted’ Erdoğan and got sued

There are plenty of TV news channels in Turkey, but among them, CNN Türk stands out. For most of the “news channels” are actually propaganda outlets – the overwhelming majority of them for the government, just a few of them against the government. CNN Türk, however, tries to be non-partisan and objective. In its political talk shows, you can hear people who actually have different views, unlike most other shows who only bring likeminded people together so that they can all happily agree on a single political narrative. 

Yet trying to be non-partisan and objective does not save CNN Türk from trouble. Since the government (or, more precisely, “the regime”) has a clear line of you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us, it can easily perceive non-partisan and objective news as hostile news. And that perception can have serious consequences. 

To explain what I exactly mean, let me tell you about the latest incident. As the Hürriyet Daily News reported yesterday, the Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office just launched an “investigation” into CNN Türk’s editor and the producer of its morning news program. The suspected crime is something serious: “Insulting the President.” Yet the way this “insult” was carried out, in my view, is a bit hilarious: Using the word “dictator” for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a news ticker which appeared on screen for a few dozen seconds.

If I were an adviser to Turkey’s president, I would urge him to immediately do something to have this “investigation” dropped. Why? Because it really is not a great idea to ban people from calling you a “dictator.” It is nothing but self-defeating.

Why? Well, if you are NOT a dictator, then people should be able to call you a “dictator” without any legal consequences. On the contrary, if people get into trouble for calling you a “dictator,” that could suggest to some people that you actually are one. (If you want to test this hypothesis of mine, try calling Barack Obama a “dictator” in the United States, and then call Kim Jong-un a “dictator” in North Korea. Then let’s all see what happens.)

Do you know what the part of this story is even more amazing? CNN Türk did not actually define Erdoğan as a “dictator” on its screen. The news ticker rather read “‘Dictator’ on trial,” using the D word in quotation marks, as this was merely a report on the case of the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. It was Kılıçdaroğlu who called Erdoğan a “sham dictator” on Jan. 18, and who got sued for that by Erdoğan’s lawyers. (There is apparently an army of these lawyers who discover and sue hundreds for “insults” all across Turkey every single month.) 

So, CNN Türk was merely reporting the fact that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu got sued for calling Erdoğan a dictator. Yet still, it committed a big irreverence by typing this inappropriate word, even in quotation marks, in connection with the glorious leader of our glorious nation. That is, at least, how the Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seems to think. We will wait to see what the courts will think.

But we don’t have to wait to have an opinion about the state of freedom of speech in Turkey. Our leaders often deny any problem in this area, saying we have ample freedom of speech – we just don’t tolerate “insults.” But when you get the nature of some of these “insults,” as I explained here, you also get the point.