September 14, 2014

Pro-government dailies lose credibility with fabricated stories

Pro-government dailies have eroded their credibility with the publication of many fabricated reports aimed at whitewashing the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government after four Cabinet ministers had to resign following a graft probe that went public in December of last year.

Following the corruption probe that was made public on Dec. 17, 2013, pro-government dailies such as Sabah, Takvim, Star and Akşam wholeheartedly defended the government by turning a blind eye to claims of corruption, while launching a smear campaign against Hizmet, a faith-based social movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Despite the existence of overwhelming evidence that was leaked to the media from the investigation that implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and some ministers, Erdoğan denied the charges and instead claimed a foreign conspiracy as well as domestic groups including Hizmet as actors behind the graft probe and of being involved in a coup plot against the government.

The "parallel structure" is a term used by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government officials and President Erdoğan to refer to Hizmet.

According to the government line, corruption investigations were conducted by police and prosecutors who have links with Hizmet. Yet not a shred of evidence has been produced verifying these allegations.

Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who is also a human rights activist, told Sunday's Zaman that the government is getting prepared for a bigger “witch hunt” against Hizmet and individuals the government believes to be members or followers of this movement.

Hence the government has had to rely on fabricated evidence as the pro-government media outlets have been tasked with providing coverage for these lies. The reporting against Hizmet has often been contradictory.

The pro-government Akşam daily contradicted itself with its news on the Hizmet movement on Sept. 7. The daily claimed that the National Security Organization (MİT) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will work jointly against Hizmet.

Erdoğan, according to the pro-government daily, said on his way back to Turkey last Saturday that during his meeting with US President Barack Obama, he mentioned the so-called “parallel structure” and stated, “In particular I emphasized to [Obama] the need for our intelligence organizations to coordinate more closely on this issue and the need to focus on this ["parallel structure"], which threatens Turkey's national security."
Yet it was the same paper that ran a headline story stating the complete opposite.

It said the CIA and Hizmet are working jointly to coordinate their political and economic activities in Central Asian countries in its March 17 edition.

This kind of contradictory reporting has been mocked by many in the social media, particularly on Twitter, in which lots of people shared Internet memes showing two headlines in the same frame.

In another report, the Akşam daily asserted in a headline story on June 27 that there was a “special team” that had been working for three months to detect pro-Hizmet officers in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). According to the daily, there were 40 high-ranking officers in the armed forces with close links to Hizmet.
The daily also reported that among those officers were allegedly 20 brigadier generals, five admirals, five regional commanders and one force commander, although it did not provide any evidence to support its claims about the officers and Hizmet.

Meanwhile, then-President Abdullah Gül vehemently denied the claim and the President's Office on June 27 released a statement that the news report was “irresponsible” and an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the military at a time of external threats.

Akşam also claimed in another report published on April 4 that then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had allegedly been wiretapped by the “parallel structure” with the aid of a special drone that is capable of conducting audio surveillance as well as wiretapping the phone conversations of a certain address.

Those media outlets attributed this issue to the “parallel state,” although they didn't have any evidence to prove this claim.

Pro-government media called Gauck ‘imam of Germany'

German President Joachim Gauck harshly criticized the Turkish government's authoritarian policies to grant wide powers to MİT and gave the authorities a roasting for its brutal crackdown on protesters. Gauck delivered a speech at Ankara's Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) on April 29.

One of the pro-government dailies, Takvim, labeled Gauck the “imam” of Hizmet in Germany for his critical speech, referring to Erdoğan's accusations against Hizmet. Gauck's blunt criticism of the government received an angry reaction from the Turkish media, which attacked the visiting president with harshly critical headlines that bordered on mockery of Gauck.

Erdoğan, speaking on an ATV program on March 6 said that during a phone call with President Barack Obama on Feb. 19: “I discussed these issues [Gülen and Hizmet] with President Obama. I told him that 'the source of my country's discomfort lies there [in the US] and I am expecting you to do whatever is necessary. I ask for your help, just like you ask my help whenever some people [in Turkey] threaten the US's internal security.' And he [Obama] looked on it positively and said, ‘I got your message'.”

The White House put the blame on Erdoğan for misrepresenting the content of his phone conversation with President Obama on Feb. 19 regarding the extradition of Gülen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999.

The McClatchy news group in Washington called the White House statement on Erdoğan's remarks “an unusual rebuke” on March 8.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 September 2014, Sunday