Turkey’s third post-coup week has been full of uncertainties, suspicion and concern. As of Wednesday morning there were 1,297 individuals subject to an international travel ban, among them 35 journalists and 51 lawyers.
A developing rift between Ankara and Rome illustrates what Turks can expect from the government-controlled and -aligned media: a moulding of the truth to fit the words and agenda of the country’s president.
In a combative interview with Italy’s RAI News 24, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the Italian government’s investigation of his son Bilal. He warned that the incident would put Turkey’s relations with Italy “in difficulty”.
“If my son had entered Italy, he would perhaps be arrested. What is this? My son, who is a bright man, is accused of money laundering. Instead of hassling my son, Italy should deal with its own mafia,” he said angrily.
His anger spilled over to the city of Bologna as well. “In that city they call me a dictator,” Erdogan said. “They organise pro-PKK demonstrations. Why don’t they [Italian authorities] step in? This issue will jeopardise our relations with Italy.”
Later, Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, responded on Twitter: ”In this country the judges respond to the laws and the Italian constitution, not the Turkish president. It’s called ‘rule of law.'”
In questo Paese i giudici rispondono alle leggi e alla Costituzione italiana, non al presidente turco. Si chiama “stato di diritto” #Italia
— Matteo Renzi (@matteorenzi) August 2, 2016
It’s unnerving how this not-so-diplomatic sparring played out in the Turkish press. While Erdogan’s words were widely quoted on TV channels, the Italian prime minister’s reaction was missing. As media-monitoring organisations pointed out, half of reality was missing, self-censored by subservient outlets under the president’s thumb.
Erol Önderoğlu, Reporters Without Borders’ Turkey representative, asked via Twitter whether or not Turkish TV channels would consider reporting Renzi’s “rule of law” comments. Sadly, he knew they wouldn’t.
It goes further, though. As if self-censorship wasn’t enough, the government moved to block access to articles about the money laundering allegations against Bilal Erdogan following the RAI interview. Cumhuriyet — one of the handful of independent media outlets remaining — reported that Diken and Gazeteport — already under the eye of the government — were sites that had their coverage censored.
At the same time, behind the smokescreen of a subservient press, the Erdogan administration has turned its oppressive measures on Kurdish journalists. Police in the Karayazı District of Erzurum Province detained Mehmet Arslan, a reporter for Dicle News Agency (DİHA). Turkish telecommunications regulator, TIB, blocked access to the website of JİNHA news agency, which mainly covers Kurdish issues.
Journalists on social media were warning authorities that there was a high risk that a journalist in detention, Haşim Söylemez, who recently had two successive brain surgeries, could face health issues in jail.
A colleague of his, briefly arrested with Söylemez, tweeted that “he had a hard time even standing up in the cell”.
Önderoğlu is as deeply concerned as I am about the coming weeks. He said in next four months at least 149 journalists will be facing courts and, due to emergency rule practices, there will be many legal inquiries underway about the others, mainly based on the Anti-Terror Law and the Criminal Code.