As Turkey’s Protests Continue, Attention Falls on Failures of Turkish Media

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ARIS MESSINIS / AFP / Getty Images

Protesters stand on the roof of a building at sunset in Istanbul's Taksim Square on June 4, 2013

As epic clashes between antigovernment protesters and riot police turned downtown Istanbul into a battle zone last weekend, the country’s two main news channels had, well, not much to report. One ran a documentary on penguins. The other, a cooking show. To many Turks, their silence was symptomatic of the self-censorship Turkey’s media have practiced under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tightfisted 10-year rule. Penguin T-shirts, penguin jokes and penguin costumes now abound — the bird has become a symbol of protesters’ frustration with the mainstream media.

“Our audience feels like they were betrayed,” said NTV chief executive Cem Aydin on Tuesday after a meeting with staff, some of whom resigned in protest at the lack of coverage. Criticism of the channel was “fair to a large extent,” he said. Protests are now in their 10th day. They initially began over plans to raze a park in central Istanbul but soon turned into a mass outpouring of anger against the government and have spread to more than 60 cities in Turkey. Curbs on press freedom rank high among demonstrators’ grievances, alongside concern over the government’s authoritarian manner and Islamist-influenced agenda.

(MORE: Dodging Tear Gas Over Discussion of Turkey’s Financial Future)

Critics say Erdogan’s government has sought to control the media by levying heavy tax fines and seizing the assets of media firms perceived to be critical of his administration. Many large media companies also own businesses in fields like energy, banking and mining. Though the government denied any political motivation in those cases, the end result has been a deferential approach on the part of mainstream news outlets to government policies. Controversial journalists were quietly asked to leave. News items were whitewashed. Meanwhile, Erdogan often sued cartoonists and journalists who criticized him.

According to an online poll by Istanbul’s Bilgi University this week, 84% of demonstrators in Istanbul cited lack of media coverage among reasons for joining the protests, compared with 56% who cited the destruction of the park.

(PHOTOS: Turmoil in Istanbul: Guy Martin at Turkey’s Gezi Park Protests)

On Sunday, for example, after tens of thousands of people flooded into Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the front page of Sabah, a top-selling newspaper, lauded Erdogan for his antismoking campaign. Sabah is owned by Calik Holding, a group whose chief executive, Berat Albayrak, is Erdogan’s son-in-law. Two state banks helped finance its 2008 purchase.

Fallout from the protests has hurt some media companies and their affiliates. Garanti Bank, a sister company of the NTV news station, owned by the Dogus conglomerate, said 35 million to 40 million lira ($18.6 million to $21.2 million) in funds were withdrawn in the past week, while about 1,500 credit cards were canceled. Meanwhile, protesters have called on CNN International to withdraw its franchising agreement with CNN Turk, the Turkish channel that ran the penguin documentary.

But while mainstream media fell short, social media have thrived. Like at Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Turkey’s protests are largely coordinated using Twitter and Facebook, where Turks constitute the world’s fourth largest community. “Social media is hugely important to what we do,” says one of the first activists to camp out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. “It’s how we spread information.” From a tent in the middle of the park, faced with police tear-gassing at night, the group used Twitter to spread the word and rally thousands.

The level of interaction on social media has been “phenomenal,” according to a study by New York University’s Social Media and Political Participation Lab published on June 1. More than 3,000 tweets per minute were sent about the protests after midnight on May 31, it said.

“Dissatisfied with the mainstream media’s coverage of the event, which has been almost nonexistent within Turkey, Turkish protesters have begun live-tweeting the protests,” study authors Pablo Barbera and Megan Metzger wrote. Protesters encouraged Turks to turn off their televisions in protest over the lack of coverage of the mainstream media by promoting the hashtag #BugünTelevizyonlarıKapat (literally, “turn off the TVs today”).

(MORE: Protests in Turkey: Will Taksim Become Erdogan’s Tahrir)

“What is unique about this particular case is how Twitter is being used to spread information about the demonstrations from the ground,” the study said. Around 90% of all geo-located tweets came from within Turkey. In comparison, only an estimated 30% of those tweeting about Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution were in the country.

Using Twitter, three young Turks in New York over the weekend launched a campaign on the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo to raise awareness of the protests that became one of the site’s fastest-ever political campaigns. Their bid to raise enough money for a full-page ad in the New York Times received donations from 50 countries at a rate of over $2,500 per hour in its first day, crossing its $53,800 goal in about 21 hours.

The government, in turn, has attacked social media for misleading the public, with Erdogan calling it a “menace.” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said in a speech yesterday that the government “could have shut down Internet access, but we didn’t.” In Gezi Park, hand-drawn banners and info sheets list tips on what to do if Internet access does get cut off. They range from old-school international dial-up numbers for modems that can be used, to VPN programs. Could it come to that? On Thursday, the popularly elected Erdogan showed no sign of seeking rapprochement with protesters, whom he has referred to as “a handful of marauders.” The park-redevelopment scheme would continue as planned, he told reporters at the end of a four-day trip to Africa. He also warned that “terrorist groups” were involved in the protests. Even as Turkey’s war over information continues, the battle could soon turn back to the streets.

WATCH: Protest in Turkey

70 comments
JaseYKotan
JaseYKotan

@TIME @TIMEWorld like the fact how you guys cover the world news, so independent from the real agenda that is going on. Bravo ( sarcastic )

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

Before Turkey collapse, Turkey nee to surrender it EU membership first. Now it's Russia, Iran,Syria and Lebanon behind the riots for that you will see. May be one day go to Israel side. 

JennskyLowery
JennskyLowery

@TIME @TIMEWorld thats the failing old media, the new media works fine. Media has been redefined, old media slow at getting it.

mkfnz
mkfnz

@hsnzsy Its a disgrace how tayyip has intimidated the press - turkey has the biggest number of imprisoned journalists in the world!

ArabiSouri
ArabiSouri

The Ottoman Caliph managed to take control over most of Turkey's aspects of life through a systematic lengthy consolidation of powers, starting with the Army and the military drill that with the help of Mossad was changed into a 'conspiracy against Erdogan's democracy' and top army chiefs were all imprisoned, any journalist who reported any other story than praising Erdogan was imprisoned, others were killed like a brave Syrian journalist Maya Nasser who was assassinated by an Erdogan assassin because Maya was gathering documents proving Erdogan's involvement with lots of heinous crimes with the help of Al-Qaeda (Mossad) [http://nsnbc.me/2012/09/27/killing-of-journalist-maya-naser-in-damascus-possibly-tied-to-his-investigation-into-turkey-war-crimes/], then the control of media with the help of his friend the 'democratic' emperor of Qatar, then the control of main mafias especially smugglers into the south with Syria, then the human organ trafficking among hundreds of other crimes he committed 'democratically' as he won the elections with a very slight margin 'democratically'..

Worth noting that the number of political journalists inside prisons in Turkey during Erdogan reign exceed the number of those outside prison. Turkey & Israel meanwhile compete on the number 1 in the list of state sponsoring human organs trade, especially during the past 2 years when Turkey beat Israel to number 1 with the large numbers of Al-Qaeda terrorists injured and organs were extracted.

Turkish media now: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=454194311340921

happyhappyjoyjoy777
happyhappyjoyjoy777

Sounds just like the American establishment media during the huge World Trade Organization protests in Seattle some years back. The largest protests since the Vietnam war, with protesters from left and right making common cause together for political transparency. It was awesome, and beautiful. 


And CBS/NBC/ABC/CNN/Fox had, well, not much to report.


ececan
ececan

Events maybe started for trees and even police showed too much reaction in the beginning but they had reason to react that way because protestors started to burn public properties and attacked police forces and now it is going on because of the extremist left wing (not all of them of course) who doesn't have any other hope left to take over power. They've been covering their dictatorship with democracy, using police and soldiers, forcing bans on religions freedom for decades. 

They use high school kids to show crowd and force artists and singers to show their support. If they are real democrats, why are they condemning artists and singers who don't think like they do? Everybody knows how democratic they are and still wishing for a new military coups!

These people unbelievable. When they were in power, they use to scare people by sayin don't vote for them, they will make the country like Iran. Now, Turkey is trying to join EU and have good relations with west (unlike how they scared people), now they are supporting Assad regime in Syria which is the poppet and ally of Iran.

They don't make any sense any more! Becoming funny!

RickHunter
RickHunter

Sic Semper Tyrannus Erdogan......

wiseguy7654321
wiseguy7654321

@TIME @TIMEWorld that's not just a 'whisper'.... The Turks massacred the Armenians.. Until that's known let them kill each other..

GFB
GFB

Minister of Interior said the police did not gas the protesters at Kugulu (Swan) Park. I am in my mid60s and I guess my imagination is running wild. The tear gas and the water cannons were not there, it was just me hallucinating. Wait a minute, friends of mine also had the same hallucination.

I must have had a glass of wine with dinner and as Recep Tayyip noted all who touch alcohol are alcoholics. Don't trust the hallucinations of alcoholics. But I damn it there were other alcoholics with the same dream/hallucination, or should we call it nightmare?

Now I remember, the police were passing out a new bottle of perfume called RTE, and wanted us to closely review the sample before they started their marketing campaign for the new perfume. 

GFB
GFB

I was at Kugulu Park in Ankara, which is 200-300 yards from my flat. I joined the protest there just to see what the protesters were doing and was ruthlessly and without warning gassed last night by the police. There was no provocation. The protest was totally peaceful. I have never seen such peaceful group of young people in my life. It was more like they were celebrating an awakening, rather than protesting. 
For some unknown reason and without any notice cops tore into the peaceful group who was just shouting for the government to resign. It was raining last night and the group protesting was small by any imagination. The cops used plenty of water cannons and tear gas and those gas canisters were not being lobbed by the police but fired at people to maim those at or near the park who might be protesting. The cops are generally coming from the same islamist background as Erdogan and they are being ruthless to the protesters and those that are observing the protestors. 

adekunle_dreams
adekunle_dreams

@TIME who is sponsoring this protest? Those against Assad or those in support of Assad?

SuhailShafi
SuhailShafi

The Turkish media sounds a lot like the corporate US media - too much in bed with executive authority while failing to adequately take an independent stand with regards to the issues facing the nation.

Both American and Turkish journalists should not be afraid to take and independent viewpoint and speak openly and disagree with their respective governments.

can11
can11

The biggest supporters of Erdogan regime is the low income and high income (top 1%) people. Low income families have benefited from socialist policies such as free healthcare, free education, free household subsidies etc. High income people are the ones getting lucrative government deals, construction projects, government loans and subsidies, tax exemptions etc. These are also the owners of the main stream media. The educated, working middle class is the one that is squeezed and has disgust against government since they are the ones paying most of the taxes, contributing to the development of the country. In return their voice is not heard and actually suppressed as in the case of Gezi Park.

Kandellini
Kandellini

@TIME @TIMEWorld This is the only protest in the World where the top 1% of a nation is protesting, and the other 99% not gets recognised

PaulHarmon
PaulHarmon

My fear is that Erdogan, be ignoring the lessons of Ataturk, and bringing religion into politics, may be leading Turkey into civil war.

m_yildas
m_yildas

What did the media cover in Turkey when we had one of the biggest terrorist attacks in Reyhanli, Hatay on May 11th?  We had an immediate statewide ban on the press for five full days. It is still not certain how many people have died in the attacks. Is it 55, 67, 107??? People got arrested in Izmir yesterday because of their tweets!!! Their crime is tweeting photos of cops and citizens who were beating protesters. We have wonderful things in Turkey but FREE PRESS and FREEDOM OF SPEECH are not one of them. Our press is government owned and controlled. Saying that some media channels chose not to give the news is really naïve. Btw, do not worry about Time magazine not covering our prime mininsters speech tonight. They will have to cover it when it will ignite a civil war and we start beating and killing each other without remembering why.

AbdullahE77
AbdullahE77

@TIME @TIMEWorld are you going to report about the crowd gathering to support prime minister as well?? or just the opposition???

ececan
ececan

@Burcincim @TIME @Reuters There are over 25 major news paper in Turkey and you are bothered by these 6 headlines (headline saying: "we are open to all democratic requests)  which is the main part of PM's last night speech. I think it is a good headline to keep stability. You want everyone to be against him and provoke? You don't realize but that doesn't call democracy? Maybe you should go back and start thinking how the real democrat should think!

Mina
Mina

No one has not being used by anyone over there, no one harmed any public or private properties, they are real democrats and they are all against RTE's forceful implications that are contradictory with democracy. People just woke up, but there are still people sleeping or daydreaming. Yes, Turkey is trying to join EU, but doing what? By ruining historical buildings, banning alcohol, deciding what person should do or not do, and selling the lands, putting the journalists or the others into jail for their ideas. I am just wondering Ecehan we are living in the same country or what. This is so funny. You are right at just one point, women with covered hair would have been free, however, religion is not everything. And I highly recommend you to think about the other minorities whose religions are different from you, what you think, NOW, they have freedom of religion? 

 RTE's just doing show. When he came back to Turkey from Africa (I am not sure  why he was there also when Turkey is in turmoil) , as a PM of Turkey, not  a PM for just people who elected him, he gave a speech and just divided the country. 

stasman
stasman

@Kandellini @TIME @TIMEWorld  

Really The top 1% 

Most of the protesters are students and unemployed people ( that is how they could stay there for more than a week) there are few celebrities in the protests who may be a member of the top 1% income group. 

The top 1% in Turkey is the businessman who always have a good relationship with the government. They are the owners of the media who censored the events in the first days or the potential contractors of the planned mall. 

ececan
ececan

@m_yildas

Re Reyhanli: In every country there are times they ban the broadcast of certain news for a time period when national security becomes concern. Also, if they didn’t control the news at that time, people would do crazy things such as attacking Syrian refugees in the region. I highly doubt that would be called against freedom of speech.

Re Tweets: They got arrested because of not those photos you mentioned. They are arrested because of the content of their messages. Which were to stir the country more by their provocative and total lie messages. Though, all of them released except one. I would suggest you to search and read the actual messages.

I have feelings that hopefully it will get better soon!

AlbConst
AlbConst

@AbdullahE77  The gathering is not the news.  If the gezi park protesters didn't receive such a vicious government response through the police, they would've never made international news.

The news is the attempted suppression of the gathering.  The news is the suppression of coverage by the Turkish media.  These heavy handed tactics by the government against their own people (whether majority or minority) is the issue and what makes it newsworthy.

Aspiringazoz
Aspiringazoz

"To keep stability"?? Was that why your god sultan tayyip erdogan reduced the death toll of Reyhanlı car bombing assault? Is "we'll handle with that bank's ceo who announced he was also supporting of resistance" new manner of the real democracy? To be saying that I was polled to PM by %50 majority that's why i have sufficent power to do everything, even to dictate you how many kid you need to give birth called as democracy??

Mina
Mina

What do you mean by saying that headline for keeping stability? why were people protesting  against RTE they did not keep their headlines stable? Thinking meanining of democracy again, you are the one must think!!! 

m_yildas
m_yildas

@ececan @m_yildas Do you think our goverment really cares about people not attacking each other? If this was the case the tone that our prime minister used from day one would be a much different one. I do not want to turn this forum into a bickering game. I have read actual messages and was lucky enough to read most of them first hand. You cannot arrest anybody claiming that they are distributing lies on twitter, by the way the tweets that I have received were 100% true, that was the real problem. The real provacation is being done by most of the politicians in Ankara and I do not see them being arrested. Good night! I need to get some sleep.