Media

Media control: The biggest threat to fair elections in Turkey

Presidential candidates turkey 2014

There is a presidential election coming up in less than five days, and the winner will most likely be prime minister Erdogan. But there are many reasons why this elections can not be considered fair. Here are my 3 main points of concerns:

1. Erdogan runs as a prime minister

Despite a law that says that a public servant can not run for president, Erdogan still runs for president at the same time as he continues to be prime minister of Turkey. He is and has been using the full power and resources of the state apparatus throughout his campaign, while the oppositions candidates has barely been able to get a banner up – Erdogan is on the other hand everywhere.

2. TRT coverage of the presidential candidates

It is a fact that the majority of the Turkish population do not receive impartial and balanced information about the different candidates. The main news source in Turkey is television, and less than 50% has access to the Internet. Looking at the state channel TRT and their coverage of the campaigns, more or less all time has been spent on Erdogan, despite the fact that the state TV should be impartial. The impact of such an uneven coverage can not be underestimated: The only one that about 50% of the voters in Turkey hear and see is Erdogan.

3. Heavy self-censorship in the media

Media in general covering the presidential candidates very unfairly, and generally avoid to say anything negative about Erdogan, while the opposition candidates are heavily attacked and scrutinised. One example of how this is happening, is that many TV-channels repeatedly goes on discussing the arrests of the police officers recently, without nowadays mentioning the reason why they are arrested: they gathered evidence for corruption within the government. This is symptomatic for how self-censorship shifts the focus of an event and avoid to put the real issue on the table. It is deceiving and effectively manipulate voters into viewing Erdogan as a victim.

I am nervously waiting for Sunday…

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Is it all about the ballot box?

The question posed above deserve some thinking. What is a fair election?

Erdogan’s answer would be that it is all about the ballot box, no matter what factors are shaping the final result. In other words, this represents a technical approach to fairness at democratic elections. It is about making sure that people are not hindered to vote for the party of their choice and that their votes are later counted accordingly. However, even Erdogan’s  kind of fairness seems to be under threat in today’s Turkey…

The most worrying fact is that YSK, the powerful organ that organize the elections, is a branch under the judiciary, that is now under the governments control due to the changes of the HSYK that recently was implemented.

In a letter to the European Parliament the liberal democratic leader, Cem Toker, has called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send neutral observers to guard the elections. In his letter he refers to an article, giving reasons why everyone should be worried on the 30th of March. One indication of possible cheating is that considerably more ballots than registered voters have been printed. The same was the case in the referendum 2011, and what happened to the ones left then is still unknown. Another indication that points towards cheating in both previous and upcoming elections, is that YSK has been very unwilling to provide transparency in a way that is crucial in a democracy… many things point to them being heavily controlled by the ruling party. Read Cem Toker’s very worrisome article here.

And even beside the technical ballot box aspect, there are many other things pointing towards an unfair election.

This week a report was released showing that 90 percent of the airing time from election campaigns on the state television was devoted to AKP. Only 5 percent of the coverage went to CHP. In addition, there are endless number of examples of how television and media in Turkey are working as propaganda machine for the government, rather than as a provider of information for people to make their own decisions upon. 

Now, remember that TV is the only news source for the big majority of Turks on the country side. Thus, many people are only reached by Erdogan’s version of everything that happens in the country… 

The questions boils down to: would people vote differently if there wasn’t any censorship?

If the answer is yes, can we really talk about fair democratic elections in Turkey at all?

Online news sources in Turkey: the shocking truth

Online news sources in Turkey: the shocking truth

Since my last post two important and related things have happened.

First, the government passed a new Internet legislation. It is currently waiting to be approved by president Abdullah Gül. If he does not use his veto, this law will pull Turkey many steps back in terms of freedom of expression. The law will then be used as a tool for the government to silence the opposition before the elections and avoid people getting access to critical information about it’s corruption and wrongdoings.

Secondly, just some hours ago, during the evening of February 10th, an interview on the TV channel CNN Türk with Fatih Altayli was aired. In this interview he openly admitted that the AKP government is putting enormous pressure on Habertürk to report in their favour. Altayli also told that this was the case for all media outlets. For any one who has been following Turkey the recent years, this comes as no surprise. But Altaylis statement is still important. The cat is further away from the bag than ever before!

I decided to use this moment, these breaking news, to scrutinize the biggest online news sources in Turkey to evaluate how they had reported on the matter just some hours after the interview was aired.

My intention was to expose to what extent the Turkish online newspapers fulfilled their journalistic duty. I wanted to find out which ones were pro government and which ones were reporting critical.

The nineteen largest news websites in Turkey

The nineteen largest online news websites in Turkey and their style of reporting!

Above is a compiled table with the 19 most visited Turkish news sites according to Alexa, column 2 (click on the picture for larger view). The third column shows the estimated number of visits for the last month, just to get an idea of the volume to these sites (not unique visitors). I took these numbers from Traffic Estimate, and they are not always following the Alexa rank exactly, but should be looked upon as a crude way to measure the relation between the sites in terms of Internet traffic. The last column contains my own evaluation of the sites in terms of reporting style.

How the news site reported on the interview with Fatih Altayli mentioned above was one indicator. My continuous coverage of the sites for more than half a year, was another.

Critical: the site reported fair about what Altayli said + have a history of critical reporting towards the government.

Self-censored: reported rather fair about what he said, but never deals with too sensitive subjects. In terms of western standard many of these sites would be regarded more as entertainment websites.

Pro government: reported nothing about the interview or reported a heavily skewed and censored version of what Altayli said + have a history of extreme pro government reporting.

There are many things to be said about the table above and I will probably come back to some of those it in later posts. But one comment would be that the most visited news sites do not follow the most circulated in printed media. For example, Zaman is by far the largest printed newspaper in Turkey, but its website, zaman.com.tr is only on the 9th place of the most visited new sites. And Milliyet.com.tr that is on the second place of most visited news sites is on 10th place when it comes to printed media. Another thing that is striking is the rise of only-online actors, such as Haber7.com and Haberler.com. These are not available in print.

Based on the visits to the web sites I now ask how many of all visits to Turkish online newspapers came to a site with a critical reporting style. Here is the result:

Percentage of visits
Pro-government

%36,43

Self-censored

%49,08

Critical

%14,49

It is in many ways shocking that only %14,5 of each visits to a news website in Turkey goes to one that is reporting critically about the government doings. It really put forward the question how much a source of enlightenment Internet is for the Turkish Internet users. It is especially remarkable considering that the 50% of the Turkish population that has access to internet belongs to the well-off and educated part.

One explanation why the critical news sites such as sozcu.com.tr, odatv.com and radikal.com.tr are not more popular is their affiliation with ultra kemalist and nationalistic political views, that might scare away a big chunk of more moderate internet users. This makes me wonder:

Is it time for a new independent online newspaper in Turkey?

Leaked voice recording proves Erdogan’s grip on Turkish media

A voice recording between prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and Mehmet Fatih Saraç, the deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group, that owns the TV channel Haberturk, was published on Youtube yesterday. It is direct proof that Erdogan personally intervenes to control the media in Turkey.

The conversation took place on the 4th of June 2013, in the middle of the Gezi protests. At the time of the conversation, Erdogan is in Morocco watching Haberturk. He is upset because the channel is broadcasting a news ticker informing of a speech where the opposition party leader, Bahçeli, is calling for President, Abdullah Gül to interfere in the situation (i.e. to override Erdogan). Erdogan orders Saraç to take the ticker out of broadcast. Saraç sounds scared, nervously repeating that he is going to take care of the situation immediately.

Here comes my own rough translation of the conversation (based on a original transcript in Turkish taken from Bugün):

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Fatih, look, right now I…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes, Mr. Prime minister

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I am here in Marocco watching TV…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Yes, Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: … all of Bahceli’s talk is shown and now, the talk is also running as a text below.

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Got it, Sir! Right now! Ok!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: And in Bahceli’s written text it says that the presidents first responsibility is being in meetings, but additional to these meetings he should take care of the situation…

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I got it, Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: … through these meetings he should take steps to bring peace to the country

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok Sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I mean Bahceli said this, and it is constantly going as a text on the TV

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok sir! Got it sir! Right now sir!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: You say you understand, but my god, why do I need to call you about something like this?

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: Ok, your order, Sir! I got it!

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:  Right now… It has to be done!

Mehmet Fatih Saraç: I am doing it right now, Sir!

After this conversation, the video above includes voice recordings in which you can hear Saraç calling other people to have the ticker being taken out of broadcast on the prime minister’s order!