July 10, 2014

Erdoğan's smear campaign against Zaman draws ire

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged people to boycott the Zaman media group while speaking in a rally in the Black Sea city of Tokat on Wednesday, a move which comes as a major blow to media freedoms and people's right to obtain information.

Denouncing the media outlets that are supportive of the Hizmet movement, a social and religious grassroots organization which originated in Turkey and is inspired by the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan told supporters at the rally not to buy these newspapers. “Throw them away if they are delivered to your houses,” Erdoğan openly told people gathered in Tokat to hear the prime minister during one of the first steps of his presidential campaign. This openly discriminatory remark is not the first of its kind. Erdoğan made similar calls during the run-up to the March 30 local elections targeting Zaman and Today's Zaman dailies.

Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir told Today's Zaman on Thursday that such remarks by a prime minister are unacceptable. “It is not possible to come up with a reasonable legal or social explanation for such a call,” Esendir said, adding that it might be explained as a psychological reaction. Urging Today's Zaman to sue the prime minister for his discriminatory remarks, Esendir said that his call to people not to buy certain newspapers is also not right from a commercial perspective.

Following the start of Erdoğan's smear campaign against the Hizmet movement and the Zaman media group in particular, some citizens in İstanbul were recorded stealing newspapers sent to Zaman subscribers from their mailboxes. A minor who was caught stealing newspapers told a Zaman subscriber who recorded the incident that he steals the newspapers because Zaman writes lies about the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). When asked to provide examples, the teenager boy -- who turned out to be the son of a local AK Party official -- was unable to do so. Similarly, Zaman sued a member of the municipal police for stealing the newspaper from people's mailboxes, allegedly on the order of an AK Party-ruled municipality. The municipal police officer is being tried and prosecutors have requested a prison sentence of five years.

The honorary president and founder of the Consumers Association (TÜDER) Engin Başaran also reacted angrily to the prime minister's remarks. Stating that it is against the rules of fair competition in trade, she said that Erdoğan is trying to mislead the public. “This is a serious mistake,” Başaran told Today's Zaman and said that the Zaman Media Group should sue Erdoğan for his remarks. “The president of a civil society organization is not supposed to mislead the society like this, much less a prime minister,” she commented. "Based on what is the prime minister asking people not to buy a certain newspaper? Due to a difference in ideas?" She asked. Başaran also said that Erdoğan's remarks are not only discriminatory but also deeply offensive.

Erdoğan has previously made similar calls to the nation, telling people not to buy the newspapers that belong to the Doğan Media Group conglomerate.

A direct fight with the media is unacceptable, according to Aslı Tunç, a professor of communication at İstanbul's Bilgi University. “It could be the Doğan Media Group today and a media group affiliated with Fethullah Gülen tomorrow,” she said, noting that control of the media has become the front line in the political battle in Turkey. She said that the prime minister likes to intervene in all spheres of life, but in Turkey the media is also entitled to its opinions. She criticized the media for not making a stand for the sake of journalism alone. According to her, the media should have been more vocal when massive tax demands were presented to Doğan by the Erdoğan government several years ago.

Esendir has also been critical of the media for not complying with the principles of media ethics. In reference to the slander and lies of the government media in Turkey, Esendir says that what they are doing is not journalism. He also notes that Erdoğan's attitude toward the media appalls him.

Erdoğan's smear campaign against sections of the media is the latest episode in a longstanding psychological war. In March this year, before, during and after the municipal elections, Today's Zaman's website repeatedly crashed due to cyber attacks, causing temporary access problems for visitors, especially those coming from outside Turkey.

The attacks began before the elections, but gained momentum on March 30 when Turkey headed to the ballot box. Readers were at times unable to access the websites of the Zaman, Today's Zaman and Taraf dailies, as well as the Cihan news agency on that date.

Published on Cihan, 10 July 2014, Thursday