Prime minister’s media attack strategies
For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, making a speech without mentioning or criticizing the media is like leaving the dinner table without eating dessert. By all means, he always criticizes a journalist, a column writer or the media overall with different degrees of sharpness.
We made a survey of the statements he has made about the media in the last six months and came up with a series of expressions and their content. Some examples are below.
TOTAL ATTACK: In the first category we have a strategy that could be called “total attack.” In this strategy, the target is plurally expressed. To put it more “trendily,” the great blow, which is generally struck at the final stage of “engagement rules,” is delivered first. The prime minister’s group speech made last Tuesday clearly illustrates this attitude. He offensively said that “some column writers,” who are criticizing the Syria policy of the government “behave as if they don’t belong to this country.” In such attacks, public opinion cannot understand whom the prime minister is addressing, and anyone could take it personally since the statements are quite general. Consequently the damage spreads to a large area. In a considerable number of his speeches, the prime minister often used the word “media” and speaks in a way which highly depends on generalizations and includes everyone since he refrains from specific expressions.
Attack on individuals: Here, the attack is against only one entity. Even though the prime minister does not explicitly utter the name of the journalist or the writer he criticizes, it becomes very clear whom he is addressing from the descriptions he makes in the context of current affairs. So public opinion could identify the target of the prime minister’s salvos. For example, the prime minister entered into an argument with Mehmet Baransu from daily Taraf, who said, “I am not even afraid of the armed ones. How can I be afraid of Tayyip from Kasımpaşa.“ (January 3) Or he could openly target Bekir Coşkun from daily Cumhuriyet for the metaphor of the “leash” of the “general.” (May 27)
Also there are some cases where the prime minister does not have an aggressive tone, but rather uses light irony despite his discontent. For instance, when the Turkish press did not give place to the arrest of some journalists for the phone-hacking scandal in England, the prime minister readily interfered with the situation. “Let me remind of you the incident in England which was dismissed only with a little report and could not be seen in our press,” he ironically said upon this incident (March 7). To constantly blame the press for doing an insufficient job and not evaluating important incidents such as the struggle against terrorism became a symbol of the prime minister’s general attitude.
How to be a journalist?
Another tendency we observed in Erdoğan’s attitude is that he sees himself as competent to determine what is journalism and what is not. To give another example, he criticized Cüneyt Özdemir without directly uttering his name for doing an interview with a thinner-addicted child on CNN Turk saying, “Will we raise a thinner-addict generation?” and, “Look at this journalist. Is this called journalism? Is this visual media? You legitimize thinner-addiction by interviewing this child. What kind of journalism is this?” (February 8)
Furthermore, he immediately reacts to the mistakes he sees in newspapers. For example he corrected a mistake on a photo published in the front page of a newspaper. For the newspaper’s mistake, which was to say a Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy clutched one of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies’ throat, he said “Firstly look carefully at this photo. Is it my friend who is clutching somebody’s throat in the photo? As long as you are not color-blind, you could understand what actually happened.” It is another typical Erdoğan statement. (March 13)
It is a known fact that Erdoğan, who also told young party members “not to forget their grudge,” cannot easily forget the criticisms and the negative behavior he has been subjected to. The negative attachments about the media settled in his mind and could manifest themselves at anytime. For instance, it is clear that the prime minister did not forget the criticisms made to his proposal of employing an extra employee for every employer in the period of economic crisis, “Many of the media groups made fun of my statement then,” (April 2) he said in the speech he made at the appointment ceremony of job and career consultants.