MEDIA AND MANIPULATION IN MODERN TURKEY
‘With a news cycle as mad as this, Turkey should export its national drama as a source of income.’ So goes the wisecrack about the headlong pace of news in Turkey, where a sputtering national economy, precarious negotiations between Ankara and Kurdish sep
Public debate over that whirlwind of issues is complicated by a set of obstacles long familiar to Turkey watchers: Censorship of opposition news outlets, an accelerating crackdown on social media and national polarization over Erdoğan’s fiercely divisive style of leadership.
Less commentary, however, has been devoted to how the manic pace of national news has granted Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) a reprieve from issues that prove widely unpopular with its voters. Less attention still has been devoted to the link between the AK Party’s political agility and Erdoğan’s history of starting highly polarizing debates over Turkey’s most sensitive cultural disputes.
Erdoğan has long dispensed a range of conservative prescriptions for Turkish society, calling on Turkish women to have at least three children, vowing to introduce Ottoman Turkish classes into Turkish primary schools and dismissing gender equality as “against nature.” Deliberately or incidentally, however, those outbursts have at times helped his party escape tricky political situations.
When prime minister, the head of state was once accused of unveiling a state campaign against abortion in order to deflect criticism from a botched airstrike that left 34 Turkish citizens dead. In 2013, shortly after a bomb killed 51 people in the Turkishsyrian border town of Reyhanlı, AK Party deputies rushed a controversial alcohol law through Parliament, drawing national attention toward a heated debate between conservatives and secularists.
“We should be extremely skeptical about looking for a ‘hidden reason’ behind Erdoğan’s political tactics,” said Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a columnist for the daily Milliyet and former host of the CNNTürk talk show “Karşı Gündem.” “But it is undeniable that [Erdoğan] has an innate sense of what the public wants and how to shape the public discourse.”
As elections near and the AK Party weathers internal skepticism over a flagging economy and Erdoğan’s vision of a strengthened presidency, it’s easy to imagine Erdoğan leaning on divisive issues to rally support among his nationalist, conservative voters, said Soli Özel, an international relations professor at İstanbul’s Kadir Has University.