Media and democracy not compatible, says Erdoğan

Many have been taught that free press is the cornerstone of democracy, but according to statements on Wednesday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that could not be further from the truth.

“You can’t have democracy alongside the media,” said Erdoğan at an event marking the start of the academic year.

“Once the media was running our country. The fourth estate or what have you,” the Turkish president said, adding that he would rather take his cues from the public than the media.

“A politician can’t implement sound policies if he is in fear of the media,” said Erdoğan.

The president’s statement came as he slammed the Western media, which he accused of running a misinformation campaign to smear his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Erdoğan went on to ask his country’s academics to fight back by “writing the truth” about Turkey in a “national campaign” to counter this inaccurate information.

While observers may be taken aback by the president’s blunt admission of hostility to the media, Turkey under AKP rule had already become notorious internationally for its heavy-handed approach to the press, which has earned it the title of the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

Dozens of journalists critical to the government or with alleged links to groups outlawed in Turkey face long sentences, and over a hundred are currently in jail, many of whom have been held for long periods in pre-trial detention without seeing an indictment.

 Over 100 media outlets have been shut down under increased security measures since an attempted coup in July 2016.

Many critical voices in the country’s press have also been drowned out as businesses with links to the government took over the country’s major media outlets. After Doğan Media Group, the last major semi-independent media company left in the country, was taken over by the pro-government Demirören business group earlier this year, an estimated 90 per cent of the country’s media follows the government’s line.

Turkey has faced stiff criticism from international rights groups over its crackdown, with Reporters Without Borders placing the country 157th out of 179 countries for press freedom in 2018. Freedom House, meanwhile, declared Turkey as “not free” in its 2018 Freedom in the World report.

The European Parliament voted to cancel $70 million of pre-accession funding for Turkey this week due to its failure to meet requirements in a number of areas including freedom of the press.