Hmm, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış has described an open letter about the AKP government’s response to the Gezi protests that was published in The Times as a “hate crime” and a “crime against humanity.” The letter was signed by prominent international personalities and criticized Prime Minister Erdoğan for police violence during the protests and called him a dictator. Like his boss, Bağış seems to understand media criticism as a potential coup: ”It seems to me that some people are seeking to do outside the ballot box what they cannot do at the ballot box.”
The AKP had the same reaction to a full-page ad published several weeks ago in The New York Times that had been crowdsourced by a small number of Gezi supporters. The government also was enraged by an OpEd published in the NY Times by one of its own top journalists, Yavuz Baydar, who was promptly fired from his Turkish post. In his OpEd Baydar outed the vast government trough at which media moguls are allowed to dip their snouts, with the threat that if their news disappoints the government, those lucrative contracts will go elsewhere — or they will be hit by an equally vast fine that might rob them of their livelihood, as happened to the Dogan Media Group. The Koc Group is now experiencing its own vicious tax attack, presumably in retaliation for supporting the Gezi protesters (the Divan Hotel that gave refuge to wounded protesters and was itself raided by police with teargas is owned by Koc Holding).
The AKP government blames all of this dissent on “dark forces” trying to overthrow them, much in the vein of the old Kemalist military and the new Egyptian generals, and instigated by evil outside forces (since Turks presumably would be incapable of organizing anything on this scale on their own initiative) variably described as the CIA, an international Jewish financial cabal, a worldwide “Occupy” organization that channels its orders through Twitter, or “dark forces” trying to kill the prime minister with telekinesis. This is “coup” as envisioned by Disney or a bad Hollywood script writer: Hitchcock’s “Birds” in blue.
But just as interesting is the other side of the equation in AKP’s understanding of events. It’s EITHER a coup OR a ballot box. Egypt’s ex-president Morsi too kept harping on the ballot box as the justification of his power. I was elected, so I am invincible and — just as importantly — not accountable. I was “put into” power by the box (as opposed to a tank) and thus have the right to be here. If you want to remove me, go get your own box (or tank).
This sort of zero-sum thinking is all about power, who gets it and how to keep it, rather than about democracy, accountability, and responsibility for a country and an entire population (whether they voted at your box or not). The media, like the public, becomes a maddening boar whose insistent jabs can be tamed at the trough or by threats and punishment. And if nothing else works, there are always tanks, followed by another box.
What’s the difference between attaining power by the box and power by a tank when the aim is the same — keep power for yourself and your kind, and the rest should shut up and do what they’re told, or else?
In terms of the media, the difference between renting out space and extorting it is the difference between capitalism and crime. Except in the alternate Dark Disney universe where the magic box conveys unlimited power and where disagreement is a crime and punishment is the cure.