In comments to the press following an incident last week at the Middle East Technical University in which police attacked students protesting his appearance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “We have a problem with the media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want.”
Reporters without Frontiers has dubbed Erdoğan’s Turkey “the World’s Biggest Prison for Journalists.” Many Turkish journalists are bold and at the forefront of honest reporting but when it comes to press freedom, alas, Turkish journalists have at times been their own worst enemies. Taraf, often described as a liberal, pro-democracy paper, behaved as a Turkish version of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, breathlessly reporting stories regarding fantastic conspiracies and alleged plots against elected officials. They cheered as their opponents were rounded up by an increasingly power-hungry Erdoğan, never mind that the evidence was dismissed as fraudulent by every independent expert that has seen it. As Harvard Professor Dani Rodrik explained:
The prosecution asserted that the coup was planned in 2003, citing unsigned documents on compact discs it claims were produced by the defendants at the time. However, even though the last-saved dates on these documents appear as 2002-2003, they were found to contain references to fonts and other attributes that were first introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. Hence the documents could not have been created before mid-2006, when the software was released. The handwriting on the CDs was similarly found to be forged. In addition, many defendants have proved that they were outside Turkey or hundreds of miles away from work at the time they are alleged to have prepared these documents or attended coup-planning meetings. The documents also contain countless anachronisms, such as names of organizations and places that didn’t yet exist in 2003 or were changed after that time.
Too many Turkish (and American) liberals were willing to bite their tongues at this and other blatant miscarriages of justice. By the time they realized Turkey’s Putin would come after them as well, it was too late. Perhaps the Turkish liberals should have known better, but some American diplomats and officials have an excuse: Some Turkish journalists like Cengiz Çandar actively ran interference for Erdoğan, blaming accusations of human rights abuses in Turkey on, you guessed, it neocons. All too often, whether in Turkey, Egypt, or Russia, the path to dictatorship is laid in part by journalists willing to trade principle for access. As many Turkish journalists have begun to learn, ideological fealty and self-censorship in pursuit of access erodes freedom. Alas, by the time the press learns such lessons, it is often too late.