The United Kingdom’s leading news magazine, The Economist, last week issued a special report on Turkey. Unfortunately one of the articles published by the magazine is a perfect example how international media fail to report on Turkey accurately.
Here are what the Economist had to write about Turkey and our analysis:
One example is the use of legislation that penalises insults to the head of state. Turkey’s criminal code has contained such a law since 1926, but it was rarely applied before Mr Erdogan was elected president in August 2014.
Claiming that such a law was rarely applied before Mr. Erdoğan’s term is not accurate. For example, during President Abdullah Gül’s term, prosecutors opened a total of 545 cases against defendants accused of insulting the president.
As mayor of Istanbul, Mr Erdogan once said he would like every state school to become an imam hatip, a vocational high school with an emphasis on religious training. When such schools first opened in the 1950s, the idea was to supply mosques with preachers. When the AK party took power, they accounted for barely 2% of Turkey’s students. Following a series of reforms, that proportion has risen fivefold, to more than 1m students. Some 1,500 non-religious schools have been converted to imam hatips.
The Economist fails to mention that the Imam-Hatip schools were purged following a soft military intervention into Turkish politics in 1997. According to statistics compiled by Alan Makovsky of the Washington-based Centre for America Progress, there were 601 high school level Imam-Hatip schools in 1997, in which 9.3 percent of students nation-wide saw education. After a decade of anti-Imam-Hatip policies, the number of the school shrank dramatically, until AK Party decided to act. Today there are 1,017 high school level İmam-Hatips, and those schools’ students represent only 12.9 percent of all Turkish students.
“In September mobs attacked the offices of Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s few remaining independent newspapers, after Mr Erdogan criticised its editors on national television.”
The author of that sentence intended for the reader to imagine an enraged, frenzied mob wreaking havoc at Hürriyet’s offices. According to Hürriyet’s own reports, no more than 100 people gathered at Hürriyet’s offices because of a news item that purposefully misrepresented a live TV comment from President Erdogan. Later, Hurriyet conducted an internal review and apologized to their readers for the “mistake.” The total damage to Hürriyet’s offices was several shattered or broken windows.
Secondly, calling Hürriyet an “independent” newspaper causes eye-rolls in Turkey. Hurriyet’s current owner, Aydın Doğan, stated in an 2002 interview that Hurriyet belongs, instead, to the Turkish state, which is a traditional domain of Turkey’s Kemalist elites and the military. Hurriyet’s motto, “Turkey belongs to the Turks” (“Türkiye Türklerindir”), is printed on the banner of each issue and is considered racist in many circles.
Figures released by an opposition representative on the board that monitors the state broadcasting service show that the AK party enjoyed overwhelming dominance of air time during the election campaign. Mr Erdogan personally got 29 hours of coverage in the first 25 days of October and the AK party 30 hours. By contrast, the Peoples’Democratic party, or HDP, was given a grand total of just 18 minutes on air. Even so, it attracted 5.1m votes.
We know it’s disappointing news for the Economist’s writers, but Turkey is not like North Korea where citizens have only state-run TV channels to turn to for news. There are dozens of private TV channels broadcasting every sort of political viewpoint. Of course, taking advantage of state broadcasters is a problem in election campaigns, but implying that Erdoğan won the elections with the help of the state broadcasting channels is an entirely different issue.
Turkey’s private channels are little better. As the biggest street protests in Turkey’s history erupted in Istanbul in the summer of 2013, the country’s most popular news channel, CNN Turk, ran a documentary on penguins. Like the parent companies of other media outlets, its owner, Dogan Holding, feared government retribution.
CNNTurk’s owner Aydın Doğan disagrees with this claim. He said that, “broadcasting that documentary was stupid. It was not intentional, but a technicality.” CNNTurk, in fact, ran the documentary after midnight after the regular staff went home. The penguin documentary then became an urban legend created during the Gezi protests to validate the protestors’ opinions about private news channels, and to obscure their own lack of political program or organization.
Later, the protests’ magnitude pushed the private channels to cover it extensively, pro- or anti-government alike. This incident was not a symbol of Turkish authoritarianism; instead, it is a sign of professional deficiency. During the Ferguson protests in the U.S., at the beginning of the riots, U.S. national TV channels also failed to cover them properly. It simply takes days of protests to make the national news.