June 4, 2015

Pro-gov’t daily launches smear campaign against Cihan over election coverage

The pro-government Sabah daily has launched a smear campaign against the Cihan news agency, which is respected both domestically and internationally for its successful election coverage over the past 12 years, accusing the agency of plotting to manipulate the results of Turkey's June 7 general election.

In a news report on its website on Wednesday, Sabah claimed that Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily -- which is affiliated with Cihan -- the news agency's General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici and Deputy General Manager Hakan İnce are behind efforts to manipulate the results of Sunday's election in order to stir chaos in society and to cast a shadow over the results.

Sabah claimed that Cihan officials had visited the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters in Ankara last week to inform officials about their “plan for chaos.” The daily's website also used a photo of Cihan officials with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu; however, the photo turned out to be from a meeting in 2012.

Cihan has taken legal action against Sabah's allegations.

The Cihan news agency is known for its nationwide network and effective organization for any kind of elections and has built a reputation for providing extremely quick and reliable information about the counting process, dominating the sector in Turkey over the past two decades. It has won the praise of many media organizations for its coverage of the past eight elections in the country. Many leading TV channels, websites and news portals use Cihan as their primary source of information. Even the website of Sabah daily, sabah.com.tr, cooperated with Cihan for six consecutive elections since 2002.

Despite the fact that leading figures from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) praised the agency in the past for its accurate reporting of election results, the agency is being attacked by pro-government circles today because of the government's ongoing war against the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement. Cihan operates under the Feza Media Group, which was established by sympathizers of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Leading AK Party figures such as former Health Minister Recep Akdağ and current Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi followed the vote-counting process in 2011's general election from Cihan's election coordination centers. Then-AK Party Deputy Chairman Haluk İpek, who was responsible for election affairs, said Cihan's performance in the accurate reporting of election results contributed to the country's democracy.

Media administrators such as İbrahim Karagül, Yusuf Ziya Cömert, who are staunch supporters of the AK Party, and Erdoğan Aktaş also praised Cihan for its fast and reliable coverage of election results. In one example, Aktaş -- who was the head of the A Haber TV station, which is owned by the Sabah Group -- said after the 2011 general election: “If the political winner of these elections is the AK Party, the winner of the election in terms of news agencies is Cihan.”

The election results announced by Cihan have always turned out to be closest to the figures announced by the country's top election authority, the Supreme Election Board (YSK). This situation even prompted the late journalist Mehmet Ali Birand to suggest -- following the announcement of the results of 2011's general election -- that the YSK was superfluous and that the counting could be left to Cihan.

In the presidential election held last August, fought between then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opposition parties' joint candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, Cihan predicted the result almost perfectly, one day before the YSK announced the official result.

The YSK revealed that Erdoğan had received 51.79 of the nationwide vote, İhsanoğlu 38.44 percent and Demirtaş 9.76 percent, while Cihan's prediction showed Erdoğan on 51.8 percent, İhsanoğlu on 38.4 percent and Demirtaş on 9.8 percent.

The state-run Anatolia news agency at one point showed Erdoğan's vote to amount to 63 percent, while it was 52 percent according to Cihan's results. Anatolia had to change this figure to 53 percent by the end of the vote count and was criticized for trying to manipulate the election results in Erdoğan's favor.

Cihan delivered the most accurate results in last year's local elections in addition to the presidential election, despite experiencing a number of cyber-attacks and obstructions.

The AK Party government and Erdoğan launched a war against the Gülen movement and Gülen-inspired organizations following the eruption of a corruption scandal in late 2013 that implicated Erdoğan's inner circle. Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, accused the movement of masterminding the probe to overthrow the government, a claim strongly rejected by the movement.

Published on Today's Zaman, 4 June 2015, Thursday