Jul 25 2018

Erdoğan appoints “native and national” communications chief

Fahrettin Altun, an analyst and columnist with a history of hard-line views on opposition media as the new head of one of the top government bodies overseeing Turkey’s media.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made his choice to head Turkey’s powerful new Directorate of Communications with a presidential decree published in the country’s Official Gazette on Wednesday morning.

Under the new executive presidential government system in place in Turkey, a Directorate of Communications attached to the Erdoğan’s Presidency commands wide-ranging authorities over the country’s media, including oversight of the national broadcaster, TRT, and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), a regulatory body in charge of censoring and sanctioning broadcasts on both mediums.

With these powers firmly in hand, Turkey’s opposition would be justified to fear that the country’s new top media tsar will work towards his previously discussed intentions to encourage a “native and national” culture that has little space for dissenting thinkers.

As a columnist for Turkey’s widely ready pro-government daily newspaper Sabah and a top figure in SETA, the leading government-friendly Turkish think tank, Altun already had an enviable platform in the Turkish media before being named as communications director.

A tweet from Altun raised eyebrows early in July, complaining that the selection of books at a busy bookshop in one of Istanbul’s busiest streets was not sufficiently “native and national.”

The five books snapped by Altun in the tweet shared a common flaw: all were written by figures from Turkey’s opposition.

They included Eren Erdem, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), another HDP politician, İdris Baluken, and an anthology by academics who have been fired in purges since the failed coup attempt on July 2016.

“This sight is the product of a cultural policy,” wrote Altun in an article about the bookshop published in Sabah. “It is the result of a policy that is against our lands, our values, and our nation. The reflection of a Westernist cultural policy.”

Altun’s recommendation in that article is to break up the “Mafia-like organisation” that he said had formed in Turkey’s cultural sphere, which he said was “fed by Westernist ideologies and enmity to the nation.”

“We need to cast off the inferiority complex and be self-confident,” said Altun. “Just as we have seen normalisation and democratisation in the political realm, so too should it be in the cultural.”

An estimated 91 percent of Turkish print and broadcast news media is controlled by supporters of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and state broadcasters broke their own rules during the run-up to the Jun. 24 elections by giving dozens of hours more coverage to the ruling party than the opposition.