Crisis or manipulation? Turkish media debates economic downturn - media roundup

Turkey’s remaining independent and critical media outlets on Monday turned their eyes to the country’s education system, which left-wing daily BirGün, leftist-nationalist Aydınlık and secularist Cumhuriyet reported had been severely strained by poor management on the week students were supposed to return to their classes for the 2018/19 school year.

Over 1.5 million students have been left without any school to go to after a failure in the placement system, 450,000 teachers have been cut, expenses for families have risen by 30 per cent, and 2 billion lira has been cut from the education budget, Cumhuriyet reported, calling the situation “absolute chaos.”

Yeni Şafak, an Islamist pro-government daily, led with its story on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s latest attack on the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), centred around İşbank, one of Turkey’s oldest and largest lenders, and the shares in the bank owned by the CHP.

The 28 per cent shares were bequeathed to the party by Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and while the party is represented on the bank’s board, proceeds from the shares are earmarked for charitable and artistic, rather than political endeavours.

Nevertheless, Erdoğan has the party’s ownership of the shares as illegal and called for them to be turned over to the treasury in comments that were widely reported on pro-government front pages on Monday.

The comments on an issue that was no secret in the first place and had no particularly pressing need to be brought to the agenda led to speculation among some Turkish social media users that Erdoğan had intended to distract from current issues painting his government in a poor light.

Two of these – large-scale industrial actions and the apparent purchase of a luxury VIP jet for Erdoğan’s use – were reported on secularist daily Cumhuriyet’s front page on Tuesday.

Workers downed tools last week complaining of potentially lethal working conditions at Istanbul’s third airport, a huge construction project for an airport due to go into service in October.

Dozens of workers have been killed on the site, and the striking workers complained that, besides the dangerous working conditions, they had been forced to stay in flea and bed bug-infested accommodation.

A luxury Boeing 747-8 VIP jet touched down in Istanbul last week and was confirmed to have been added to the Turkish state fleet, reserved for use by high officials including Erdoğan.

The government has said the jet, which is worth at least $400 million, was a gift from Qatar, though opposition deputies have disputed that.

The major news of the day was a deal struck between Turkey and Russia to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib, the largest opposition territory in Syria holding out against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

It is hoped that the deal will prove to be, as Star put it, “a bloodless solution” preventing an attack by regime forces, which could potentially lead to a humanitarian catastrophe that could force hundreds of thousands to seek refuge across the border in Turkey.

Sabah newspaper continued on that theme on Wednesday with a front-page report on the relief felt by inhabitants of Idlib, who had been living in fear of a regime attack, and their gratitude to Turkey for pushing the deal through. The report was published under the headline “Erdoğan saved our lives.”

Milliyet, another pro-government outlet, published more details of the “roadmap” for Idlib that was agreed as part of the deal, which will see a 15 to 20-kilometre demilitarised buffer zone at the front lines separating Idlib province from regime-controlled territory.

This area will be jointly patrolled by Russia and Turkey, and all heavy weaponry will be removed by October 15, Milliyet reported.

What the newspaper failed to note was that Turkey had also agreed to singlehandedly ensure the withdrawal of armed jihadist groups by the same date, the “difficult duty” that was the subject of Cumhuriyet’s front page story on the day.

The newspaper warned that large parts of Idlib province have been under the control of radical groups such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor of Al-Qaeda’s affiliate group in the Syrian conflict. Many fear that finding a compromise that will satisfy these groups in time for mid-October will be difficult.

On Thursday pro-government newspapers gave wide coverage to Erdoğan’s speech the previous day, in which the president laid out to the public his method of dealing with an economic downturn that has left the Turkish currency down 40 per cent this year and had lenders around the world looking on anxiously.

“There is no crisis, just manipulation,” said the front page of Güneş newspaper, capturing the thrust of a speech in which Erdoğan effectively denied all responsibility for the country’s economic weakness, thrusting the blame on unscrupulous actors manipulating the economy.

The denial of fault, however, will do little to ease the worries of many Turks who have been hit by the most severe economic problems face by the country in over a decade. These issues have been reflected in the government’s budget, which as BirGün reported has drastically cut the amount earmarked for benefits.

The total aid to Turkish households has been reduced from 3.555 billion to 1.636 billion lira, leaving just 10 million per month available for food aid. Meanwhile, the state expenditure on clothing for officials ran to 92 million lira in August alone, BirGün reported.

Friday’s headlines were dominated by Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak’s three-year “New Economic Programme,” which he said will be based on “discipline, balance and change.”

The minister has promised to focus investment on key areas including manufacturing, computer development, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals, restructure public spending and cut down the country’s large current account deficit in a broad-ranging series of economic reforms.

BirGün was far more pessimistic about the programme, which it described on its front page as reminiscent of the type of reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

In fact, the new programme amounted to an official proclamation that Turkey had entered an economic crisis, the newspaper quoted economics professor Hayri Kozanoğlu as saying.

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