Erdoğan blames the media on Syria

Erdoğan blames the media on Syria

The free press in this country, or what’s left of it, continues to be the bane of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s life. There seems little chance that he will come around to understanding what the function of the press is in a genuine democracy. He still wants a non-critical and pliant media which marches in line with the government’s political expectations.

Erdoğan is now complaining that the Turkish media acted somewhat flaccidly towards Bashar al-Assad. He even dropped a barely veiled hint of “collaborating with the enemy” in this regard. “Our written and visual media did not stand up to Bashar. In fact there are those [in the media] who have acted together [with Assad]” Erdoğan reportedly intoned in Washington during his high profile trip to the U.S.

Erdoğan is also angry over what he termed as the insufficient coverage the media gave to Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s likening him to the Syrian dictator. Neither is true of course. There has been more than enough anti-Assad coverage, not just in the pro-government media, but also the free media in Turkey.

As for the words Kılıçdaroğlu uttered about Erdoğan in Brussels recently, the same applies to this. These words were extensively reported on, especially after Kılıçdaroğlu was castigated by Hannes Swoboda, the head of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, who rejected the analogy between Erdoğan and Assad, and cancelled his meeting with the CHP leader.

There has also been highly critical commentary of Kılıçdaroğlu in the press with a number of columnists indicating the CHP leader had crossed a line and gone overboard this time in his efforts to hit at Erdoğan by any means possible. At any rate it was Kılıçdaroğlu’s image that was harmed in this incident and not Erdoğan’s.

But this does not appear sufficient for Erdoğan. He wants a full frontal attack by the media on Assad and Kılıçdaroğlu. The free media however continues to refuse to march in line with government expectations. True to its real function in any democracy, it has been criticizing the government’s Syria policy based on the facts on the ground.

But Erdoğan has a problem with these facts and the criticism of his government that they have resulted in. There is a general belief today, even among key columnists writing in the pro-government media, that Ankara’s Syria policy has been a woeful failure which has started to rebound in dangerous ways. The Reyhanlı atrocity has merely strengthened this belief.

Erdoğan is aware of this and his remark in Washington appears to reflect this. His concern now is that even grassroots supporters of his party who have gone along with the government’s Syria policy will focus more on the spillover effects this policy is having on Turkey, rather than on what is happening in Syria itself. This, however, is inevitable and the one to blame here cannot be the media.

Neither can Erdoğan be too happy about the commentary in the Turkish media suggesting he got little out of President Obama on Syria, during their talks in the White House last week, appearing instead to have come around to Washington’s position on how to proceed on Syria during these talks.

The “humanitarian” line Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu have been pushing on Syria from the start may appear commendable to many supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). But seeing Turkish lives at risk now, the public expects the government to act like any responsible government and focus first on domestic security and the national interest.

The fact that the media is focusing on this very tangible public expectation now may be angering Erdoğan. But the fact is that the government’s efforts at spinning the Syria story have been as unsuccessful as the Syria policy itself. Blaming the media for being not sufficiently anti-Assad and for not running Kılıçdaroğlu to the ground with criticism will not change this.