Category Archives: media

Problems With The Washington Post’s Press Freedom Heroes in Turkey

On January 1st, the Washington Post to invited Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the daily Zaman newspaper, to write an op-ed related to his own arrest, as well as that of an executive at Samanyolu television network. Both Zaman and Samanyolu are part of the media affiliated with the Gülen movement in Turkey.

The op-ed itself include a number of important sentences on Dumanli and Zaman’s strong defense of free speech in Turkey. For example:

The two critical turning points came in 2013: [Erdoğan’s] government’s harsh treatment of protesters in Gezi Park and the systematic obstruction of justice after a major corruption scandal. Since then, Erdogan has branded dissenters and critics as traitors who are part of a vast international conspiracy to topple him.In the eyes of the regime, the journalists, TV producers and screenwriters detained by the police on Dec. 14 are members of an “armed terrorist organization” threatening the sovereignty of the state. Don’t look for confiscated arms, attack plans or suicide bombers disguised as journalists. Our fault was to report on government actions that are undermining the foundations of a democratic Turkey.Anyone who strays is harassed or fired. But as members of the free press, or whatever is left of it in Turkey, we are simply doing our jobs. All it takes to be called a terrorist under Erdogan’s regime is speaking out against government corruption and abuses of power. Verbal attacks, smear campaigns by pro-government media and legal harassment soon follow.

In other words, Dumanli and his Zaman (and its English-language version, Today’s Zaman) were only doing their job speaking truth to power and taking a stance for free speech. The schism with Erdogan is about his reactions to the Gezi protests in 2013 and his government’s rampant corruption.

This is funny. And i don’t mean that Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism is funny, nor the state of free speech in Turkey. No, I think it’s funny to hear Dumanli – of all people – write this. Because, if you’d actually been reading his articles of the last couple of years, you’d have thought that the Dumanli writing in the Washington Post and the Dumanli writing for the Gülenist press all these years are not necessarily the same person. If you’d been reading the articles of Today’s Zaman as much as I’ve done during this period, you’d be excused for thinking that the Washington Post editors were in need of a doctor.

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Why are members of the “liberal” Turkish media so willing to eat their own?

The latest arrests of journalists in Turkey are more bad news for its democracy in general and its declining press freedom in particular. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my noting how most measures of freedom of expression in Turkey have receded going back quite a while, overwhelmingly a result of government crackdowns, fines, arrests, and threats.

Yet a rather striking aspect of Turkish media is the degree to which journalists seem to accept, or even excuse, the imprisonment and prosecution of their colleagues. And I don’t mean those from the slightly more putrid segments of the Turkish media market but the more liberal (albeit self-declared so) segments.

Take one example, which occurred in conjunction with the high-profile arrests of a group of Odatv journalists accused of being the “media arm” of Ergenekon, which at the time was alleged to be a secret terrorist network attempting to overthrow the government. The arrest of one of those journalists Ahmet Şık, became particularly controversial as he was just about to publish a critical book on the Gülen movement, and many of the key prosecutors of the trials are thought to be members of the Gülen movement. It didn’t help that, shortly after Şık’s arrest, a rather clumsy, if not comical, hunt started by the police to delete digital copies of the critical book. As with many of the other arrests in the trial, in many instances the suspects didn’t have much more in common than their criticism of the government and especially the Gülen movement.

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Tired of Bad Talking Points on Turkey

I recently ran across this old New York Times editorial, A Turkish Success Story, from January 28, 2004. It’s rather striking as it heaps praise over Erdogan even as he’s only been in power for less than a year:

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamic politician who favors democratic pluralism, it has enacted far-reaching reforms that are intended to meet the exacting admissions criteria of the European Union. Mr. Erdogan, who visits the White House today, is a strongly pro-Western leader

Now fast forward almost exactly 10 years later to another NYT editorial, Turkey’s Wrong Turn, from Jan 27, 2014:

[Erdogan’s] ruthless ways and his attempt to crush dissent are not new…. [his] actions trample on democratic reforms… and [is] increasingly at odds with… NATO.

and then another couple of months to October 31st 2014, to this:

“These days Mr. Erdogan stands for something quite different, having essentially pulled a Putin..”

In 10 years, NYT’s perception of Erdoğan has gone from pro-Western democratic pluralist to being Putin. Not many leaders of state have been able to accomplish that.

You’d imagine that such a huge shift in perceptions of one man would take years to develop. Well, not at the NYT. What is also unusual is that the NYT’s editorial team coverage of Turkey seems to have remained mostly positive until very recently – a recent article in Hürriyet Daily News showed, using a textual analysis that the NYT editorials that “[d]espite the speed of his decline in popularity, the New York Times largely continued to refrain from negative coverage about Mr. Erdoğan” except for parts of 2013 and most of 2014. Continue reading

Countering statistics, Turkish pro-government newspaper responds with anti-semitism and conspiracies

Last week my work on irregularities in Turkish elections (see here, here, and here) appeared in the pro-government newspaper Takvim (here). In contrast to previous mentions in the Turkish media, this article does not focus as much on the analysis as on the context.

You see, it would appear that all my work is part of a big plan led by the “banker lobby”, a rather shady group including such celebrities as the “Jewish Baron” Murdoch (“İngiltere’nin Yahudi medya Baronu Murdoch”) and the Wallenbergs, one of the more influential business families in Sweden. The author, Bekir Hazar, especially notes the decision of Knut Agathon Wallenberg to donate money for founding the Stockholm School of Economics in 1903, where I work today.

So it’s not that Turkey’s most recent elections may have featured unprecedented levels of vote rigging in major cities like Ankara and Istanbul. No, instead, there are bankers who wish to destabilize New Turkey using any instrument they can get their hands on, which I guess in this case would be me. Continue reading

Dear Editors – OR – Turkey and some unhelpful shades of puffery

As a regular reader of op-eds and other articles on Turkey, it’s recently come to my attention how unhelpful many opinion articles are for the purpose of understanding what’s really going on in the country.

There’s plenty of good journalists writing about Turkey, so my point here is not about Turkey coverage in the media overall (which would require at least one post of its own), but about the op-eds, the commentators. I think it’s great that so many articles are being written about Turkey, as there’s so much in the country’s experience that can teach outsiders (especially us poleconomists and polisciers) how political conflict and institutions interact.

The problem (and I think it’s a problem) is not necessarily that editors at mainstream outlets such as the Financial Times or Project Syndicate include partisan articles – either clearly pro-AKP or clearly pro-Gulen (and I’m referring to AKP here as a post-Dec-17 party) – at the expense of articles that provide opinion without feeling like you’re reading something from Pravda. No, the problem is that they’re bad articles, even as the partisan puffed-up ones they appear to be.

Interestingly, just as the AKP and the Gülen movement are entirely different organizations, their puff pieces also exhibit very different kinds of authors. Whereas the former kind is much likely be authored by an actual member of the AKP (or rather, a PR firm ghost-writing it for them) the latter is more likely to be authored by someone who is not formally (if there is such a thing) a member.

As examples of pro-AKP puff pieces, prime examples are: Continue reading