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Turkish PM Erdogan, press in tense blame game

21 December 2009 [09:53] - TODAY.AZ
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's aggressiveness toward the media reflects his mishandling of the Kurdish initiative as a whole, say media representatives. After initially including the press in the process, Erdoğan now blames it for mounting social tension. Without media and opposition support, the initiative is doomed to fail, journalists say.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently been intensifying his criticism of the media since the press, which initially supported the government’s Kurdish initiative, has largely withdrawn its support.

According to many media representatives, Erdoğan’s backlash is a reflection of his unsuccessful management of the whole process and a blemish on his communication strategies.

“The government’s communication strategy on its democratic move started in the right direction, but I have doubts over how much they really benefited from it. I don’t think it pursued a proper strategy later, not only with the media but also with all partners in the process,” daily Taraf columnist and academic Mithat Sancar told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

“Erdoğan’s relations with the media have always been problematic,” Sancar added. “Of course, he can come up with criticism against the media, but adopting such an aggressive manner is not compatible with a democratic culture. His style is not right or beneficial.”

When the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government launched its initiative to put an end to the decades-old Kurdish problem, it made an effort to bring media support on board. In a series of workshops, the government consulted different segments of society, including members of the press, in a move to solicit ideas for resolving the issue.

Recently, however, the attitude seems to have changed, as Erdoğan has turned his guns on the media, blaming its coverage for the mounting social tension in society as social turmoil triggered by nationwide street clashes has jeopardized the initiative.

The prime minister has frequently targeted the media throughout his term, although he has recently intensified his criticisms of the press, accusing it of making propaganda on behalf of terrorism by exaggerating incidents and broadcasting the same footage repeatedly.

“[Erdoğan’s] recent approach to the media is just a reflection of his general stance on the media,” said Sancar. “The government can’t manage the process in general. What the media does is necessary for press freedom.”

Along with other influential media figures and scholars such as Oral Çalışlar, Ruşen Çakır, Deniz Ülke Arıboğan, Muharrem Sarıkaya and Mümtazer Türköne, Sancar attended a government-run media workshop at the beginning of August.

Some workshop participants said they found Erdoğan’s style unnecessarily harsh, adding that the Kurdish initiative is doomed to fail without media and opposition support. Others, however, called for self-restrained press coverage, saying everyone in the media should take Erdoğan’s criticisms to heart.

“To achieve the initiative, you first have to create a perception, especially in the West, that the move is not solely limited to the Kurdish question, but implies a much more comprehensive attempt to establish democratization in the country. This is the responsibility of the media,” Sarıkaya, an Ankara representative of television channel Habertürk, told the Daily News.

“However, without media and opposition support, the move now looks like an automobile with two wheels,” he said.

“Ruling governments have always accused the media in troubled periods,” Sarıkaya added. “But the media is a reflection of society and governments see themselves in that mirror. Perhaps the prime minister is angry because of that!”

According to Mümtazer Türköne from daily Zaman, Erdoğan is actually targeting the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, but the prime minister reflects his anger at and criticism of the opposition through the media.

“In fact, the media proved successful in guiding society on the issue and contributing to the peaceful resolution of the problem. It backed the initiative beyond the government’s imagination,” Türköne said.

“But the government has failed to manage its relations with the media in this process, which I believe is because of strict polarization in Parliament,” he added. “This polarization negatively affects both the fate of its campaign and its relations with the media.”

“[Erdoğan] is actually giving the message to the MHP and CHP, but he does so by leveling criticism at the media – just as MHP leader [Devlet] Bahçeli once reflected his anger at the AKP through media representatives, including me, who participated in the government’s August workshop by calling us ‘12 evil men,’” Türköne said.

Erdoğan’s style is unnecessarily rigid, Türköne added.

At the same time, he said, while the way the media conveys events to its audience is a technical matter, the press should also question itself in light of Erdoğan’s remarks and exercise a degree of self-restraint in covering the news.

Daily Radikal columnist Oral Çalışlar said the media should be self-critical of the way it handled the recent violent incidents. “It was very repulsive, even for me as a journalist and a human, to witness the media running violent incidents repeatedly, using it as a method of gaining ratings,” Çalışlar told the Daily News.

“[But] this doesn’t justify Erdoğan’s stern criticism of the media. It is not like my criticism of the media as a colleague, and it is wrong and dangerous for a prime minister to raise his criticism in a fierce and occasionally threatening manner,” he said.

The media has displayed ambivalence about the Kurdish initiative – even failing to be a supporter of the process – while the government has failed to be informative and enlightening on the issue, Çalışlar said. “But in the end, it is not possible for me to accept Erdoğan’s manner,” he added.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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