Turkey’s parallel universes

Turkey’s parallel universes

If you live in Turkey these days and happen to have a TV screen with a remote control, you can witness a fascinating reality of parallel universes. In other words, you can see how completely opposite political narratives co-exist with very little connection to each other.

The first and biggest of these universes is the pro-government one — or the pro-Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one, to be more precise. With at least seven daily newspapers and almost a dozen news channels, this universe exists only to defend the government and demonize its enemies. Every night, dozens of talking heads come together on these channels to agree (and sometimes compete) with each other on the premise that the government is always right and virtuous and its opponents are always wrong and treacherous. They simply don’t ever include any opposition voice, which could disrupt the harmony of their pro-government universe.

Then there is the second universe: the anti-government one. It is certainly more diverse in itself, ranging from secularists to nationalists, to the Gülen Movement, and is relatively a bit more flexible than the pro-government universe. Yet still, it exists not for an objective search for truth or an open discussion involving opposite views. It exists to oppose, and sometimes even demonize, the government. Here, too, similar-minded talking heads often come together to confirm their common assumptions, without disrupting the harmony of their anti-government universe.

Besides these two clear-cut universes, luckily there are a few media outlets that constitute a third universe, by trying to be fair and objective. (I could list daily Hürriyet, CNNTürk or HaberTürk.) In the TV channels of these media outlets, you can see talking heads from the polar opposite universes come together and face each other. That is why the most interesting, and heated, discussions take place here. That is also why this third universe often gets blamed by the other two universes for being “spineless.”

However, there is a growing risk for Turkey: The most powerful and ambitious of these universes, the pro-government one, may expand by increasingly marginalizing the other two.

To begin with, the fact that this universe has the whole state machinery behind it makes it invincible: Its financial sources are unlimited, and its legal security is fully guaranteed. The other two universes, however, are under constant threat. Some writers in the pro-government universe openly claim now that some elements of the anti-government media must be “confiscated,” because they serve “terrorists,” which is supposedly the Gülen Movement. The same writers also openly call on the bosses of the third universe to fire their certain columnists, because these columnists commit “treason,” which basically means that they disturb the masters of the first universe.

In other words, while the deep division in the Turkish media is a big problem for now, a much bigger problem awaits us in the near future, if the first universe expands by marginalizing and ultimately swallowing the other two. If the masters of the first universe achieve that, they will probably be very happy, thinking that they have created a wonderful super-universe with a plenitude of shining stars. What they will create, however, will rather be a cold and lifeless black hole.