Buying Up The Critics

I’ve added a new site to my blogroll, Jim Meyer’s Borderlands (click here). Jim is a historian of Russia and the Middle East and is spending this year in Turkey. His blog has some insightful things to say about Turkish politics, but also has the advantage of setting Turkey within the context of Russia and the Middle East generally, giving his blog a broader perspective.

I’ve excerpted below from an essay he wrote a week or so ago (March 3) about Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s many lawsuits against journalists and cartoonists:

Today it was reported that Turkey’s litigious leader is suing the leader of the political opposition, Deniz Baykal, for character assassination. According to the newspaper Vatan, Erdogan is suing Baykal 100,000 Turkish Liras (about $57,000 US) because Baykal criticized Erdogan’s “maganda style”…. In Turkish, the term ‘maganda’ is a very offensive word which is used to evoke hot-headed macho gold-wearing men lacking in general culture…

Calling someone a maganda can
get you in a lot of trouble in Turkey

This marks the fifth time that Erdogan has sued Baykal for character defamation… Last month, Erdogan won an award of 4,000 liras from the Turkish humor magazine Leman, after Leman published a photomontage of Erdogan flipping his middle finger…

Erdogan’s frequent lawsuits against journalists and political rivals (thought to total over fifty lawsuits since Erdogan’s AK Party took power in 2003) amount to an intimidation tactic unbecoming to Turkey. These lawsuits, moreover, need to be placed in the context of other events which have taken place in recent years. In late 2007, the second largest media company in Turkey, ATV-Sabah, was put into government receivership after its owner went bankrupt. Emerging out of nowhere to buy the company was an outfit called Calik Holding, which obtained loans from state-controlled banks in order to purchase the media firm. And who is Calik Holding’s general manager? Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

Now the Turkish government is going after the largest media holding company in the country, the Dogan Group. In late February, the Ministry of Finance announced that it was fining the Dogan Group—whose owner, Aydin Dogan, has been sharply critical of Erdogan over the past six months—a record 826 million Turkish Liras ($490 million). This amount is larger than the value of the entire company, which would most likely send it into government receivership if the Dogan Group fails in its bid to appeal the ruling.

While there have always been certain issues (mostly relating to Kurds, Armenians, Islam, and—once upon a time—communism) that could get people in trouble if they wrote about them, within such boundaries the media has generally been free in Turkey. Since I first began living here in 1992, I have never seen anything like the concerted and multi-faceted effort that is currently taking place to silence or buy out government critics. When this happened in Russia several years ago, the editorial staff at the Washington Post and other American media outlets routinely (and rightly) denounced Vladimir Putin for quashing democracy and the free press. In the case of Turkey, however, it’s really a non-story. Indeed, while Turkish journalists have to defend themselves from lawsuits filed by their own Prime Minister, American journalists who are paid to report the news from Turkey are largely ignoring this story…

No Responses to “Buying Up The Critics”

  1. I don’t know if the tax penalty against DYH is bigger than the holding’s worth. From an interview with Aydin Dogan that I had read don’t-recall-where, I sort of got the impression that he was taking this in stride. Like he was gonna fight the charges, but it’d still be alright if worst came to pass. I was quite struck by the lack of outrage he exhibited. God knows what transpires beneath these happenings…

    On the other hand, I was –and am still– amazed by the lack of attention to this case from inside or outside Turkey. The sheer scale of the penalty makes it a duty for anyone (*) who purports to care about democracy and press freedoms to closely scrutinize the Dept. of Finance charges at hand –and the penalties assessed.

    (*) Let me correct “anyone” by saying “anyone of some stature” in order to absolve myself from the said duty.

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