Erdoğan takes on the domestic and foreign media

Erdoğan takes on the domestic and foreign media

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on the warpath again against the independent Turkish and foreign media. His lawyers have lodged an official complaint against Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, for publishing video footage of Turkish secret service trucks said to be carrying arms to Syria.

The story is well-known by now. 

Erdoğan has threatened Dündar, saying he will make him pay heavily for what he claims is tantamount to espionage. His lawyers want a minimum 42-year jail sentence and maximum of life without parole for Dündar. Legal experts say the case will not float because Erdoğan does not have any legal grounds or the jurisdiction to initiate such a case.

Erdoğan’s move nevertheless gives us one of the clearest examples of his hatred for independent reporting, which is a cornerstone of democracy. Not surprisingly the international media is reporting extensively on this case now. Erdoğan has not only shown the world once again the pressures on the free media in Turkey, but has also reinforced international perceptions about his authoritarianism.

As far Erdoğan is concerned, though, international media organs that are critical of him are being egged on by what he claims is a “higher mind.” It is clear that there is an anti-Semitic connotation to this claim. Erdoğan recently blasted at the New York Times for its commentary, which shed negative light on him, and charged the paper with impudence. 

He is aware, of course, that there is little he can do against the international media. Erdoğan is nevertheless trying to turn the criticism in the foreign media to his advantage in the eyes of his grassroots Islamist supporters. Answering questions for Show TV the other night, he said that Sultan Abdulhamid had to face the same thing in his day.

Abdulhamid is known as the “Red Sultan” in the West for his crimes against humanity. His 33-year reign is also remembered as a period of great political oppression. Like Erdoğan, Abdulhamid did not tolerate criticism. Like Erdoğan, he also hated caricatures of himself and even banned images depicting big noses because he believed these referred to his own big nose. 

Abdulhamid, nevertheless, remains the darling of Islamists because he was an Islamist himself and because he prevented Zionists from settling in Palestine to set up a Jewish state.  Erdoğan said this was not the first time the New York Times had launched this kind of attack. “It did the same to Abdulhamid, may he rest in peace. It also did the same to the late Menderes and Turgut Özal. And now it did it to me,” Erdoğan said. 

Adnan Menderes was the prime minister ousted by the military in 1960 and later hanged for treason. Turgut Özal was prime minister and later president until his death in 1993. Both were criticized in the West over their poor record in terms of democracy and human rights.

Erdoğan directed his anger not just at the New York Times but other Western media organs also, who he claimed were servants of the same higher mind. “The same job was undertaken by the BBC and CNN. Do you know what their problem is? They want to weaken, divide, and swallow Turkey. But we will not allow this to happen,” he said defiantly, eyeing his conservative constituency.

Some might see a heavy dose of paranoia in Erdoğan’s remarks. His remarks also show what the country will have to contend with if he realizes his dream of becoming the all-powerful president with total control over the media and judiciary.  Sunday’s elections will show whether this will happen or not. If the polls are anything to go by, it will not. 

In the end, Erdoğan is only harming to his own image and reputation. According to a Turkish saying, “Bitter vinegar ends up corroding its own vessel.” That is what seems to be happening here.