Dec 09 2018

Pro-govt media homes in on Gezi activists as inflation and unemployment strike - Media roundup

Secularist daily Cumhuriyet’s front page on Monday reported a triple schism within the ruling party, with the reported intraparty (and family) rivalries giving hope that the HBO-style drama of Turkish politics will continue despite the Justice and Development Party’s crushing season-finale victory on June 24.

Viewers will anticipate Game of Thrones-like high jinks, with a relative newcomer to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who Cumhuriyet said is leading his faction against Berat Albayrak, the finance minister and son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on one side and the president’s younger son Bilal Erdoğan on the other.

Influencing matters from the sidelines is Sümeyye Erdoğan, the president’s younger daughter and reportedly the smart one in the family.

Much of the pro-government pool on the same day devoted front pages to new developments in the saga of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. President Erdoğan had been at the G-20 summit over the weekend along with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency have determined likely ordered the hit.

Thanks to the U.S. President’s blunt admission that Saudi money trumps any naïve notions the international community may have held about justice, Salman appears to have weathered the storm whipped up around the murder by a steady stream of Turkish leaks, and the murder was not up for serious discussion at the summit.

The Turkish press, however, appears to have chalked up the summit as a moral victory for Erdoğan, and three newspapers devoted their front pages to the president’s vow to take the matter to the United Nations.

On Tuesday left-wing nationalist daily Aydınlık and the leftist Sözcü tackled Turkey’s struggling economy, which has stuttered along this year under record levels of inflation and an ailing lira.

Last week the finance and treasury ministry announced that in November inflation had fallen from record levels above 25 percent. However, Sözcü noted, prices were still increasing even as the inflation levels were said to drop. Both newspapers reported comments by public workers’ union representatives, who said the 1.44 percent drop in inflation reported for November did not represent reality.

The reason the government had artificially cut inflation, they said, was to pre-empt the scheduled hikes to public workers’ wages in January, which will be set taking inflation into account.

On Wednesday the Islamic fundamentalist daily Yeni Akit kept up the recent barrage, initiated and led by Turkey’s AKP government, on civil society activists associated with the nationwide Gezi Park protests that rocked the government back in 2013.

The protests were by most people’s reckoning a largely spontaneous affair that sprung up after police brutally responded to environmental activists protesting the construction of yet another shopping mall over a rare park in the centre of Istanbul.

The protesters were not so innocent in the eyes of the AKP, however, which has apparently waited over five years to hit back at a handful of activists who it says are associated with the Hungarian-American investor George Soros.

Calling Soros a “Zionist baron of blood and tears,” Yeni Akit’s front page piece goes on to list the civil society organisations left stranded when the billionaire’s Open Society Foundation pulled out of Turkey, before castigating the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for swooping to the aid of the Turkish LGBTI and minority rights associations.

The leftist daily BirGün’s front page was devoted to workers at Istanbul’s third airport who were arrested while protesting against unhygienic and dangerous working conditions at the construction site. Sixty-one workers were arrested during the protests, 31 of whom were kept detained pending trial, and BirGün’s front page called for their release. The newspaper’s wish became a reality when the defendants stepped into court for the first hearing in their trial on Wednesday.

Sözcü’s front page on Thursday took readers to markets in Istanbul to demonstrate that, despite the announcement that inflation is down, prices refuse to follow suit.

The front page also included a picture of a huge queue at an employment agency, where masses of citizens are vying for one of 1300 jobs on a new project. The agency said it expected 8,000 applications by the weekend.

Pro-government daily Akşam’s headline piece on Thursday added to the campaign against Osman Kavala, a Turkish businessman and philanthropist arrested in the scope of the government’s Gezi probe.

Akşam appeared intent on tying Kavala to the protests and subsequent military intervention that toppled former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in 2013. The evidence – Kavala was apparently in Egypt the year before the protests – is predictably flimsy. Then again, in the world inhabited by Akşam’s journalists, where Turkish civil society activists are seen as culpable, rather than the Egyptian general who actually brought Mursi down and went on to replace them, who needs evidence?

On Friday it was the turn of Türkiye, another pro-government rag, to take the fight to the Gezi protesters in a headline piece that appeared first and foremost to be about the serious matter of self-congratulation.

It was Türkiye, the newspaper proudly proclaimed, that had first brought to light the dark conspiracies behind the protests “while the rest of the Turkish media looked on in shock.”

The newspaper noted the new charges against Kavala and another high profile supporter of the protests, the actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, going on to claim that the charges had confirmed its reporting from five years ago.

Aside from the fact that no court decision has yet proven or disproven the newspaper’s claims that “foreign powers” were backing the Gezi protests, it is worth noting that in several of the high profile cases against journalists and dissidents in recent years, pro-government newspaper articles detailing their alleged crimes have been used in the indictments. That might give an indication of the current state of Turkey’s media and judiciary.

Cuhmuriyet’s front page brought the focus to bear once more on inflation, which has left people earning minimum wage (around 1,600 lira net) well below the poverty line.

The article focused on a working single mother of two who attended an official meeting on the minimum wage amounts – the first time a worker has been allowed to attend the meeting.

The woman explained that she was simply unable to get by on minimum wage and benefits, which amount together to around 1,900 lira ($358) a month, saying she had been unable to even buy basic items such as clothing and was forced to get by using credit cards.