how does a obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident get made into a film?
few Turks will ever know
what really happened that night
because the government has
a near monopoly over the media
and it produces films like this one
to a public that speaks little else then Turkish
Deep ignorance: Most Turks know nothing about what really happened on the “Mavi Marmara”
So far, yet close: The exiled Fethullah GülenWhen Western journalists note in a casual aside that press freedom has experienced certain setbacks under the AKP, they are failing to do justice to the severity of this calamity and its ramifications for Turkey and the region. The calamity is exacerbated by the tendency of the foreign media to repeat, without scrutiny, the very idiocies peddled in the Turkish press, where the range of opinion on offer has become severely limited. The result is the growth of a grossly distorted and dangerous consensus about Turkey, here and abroad — to wit, that Turkey under the AKP has become more democratic and politically healthier, even if it is a bit up the duff with Islamism.When the AKP took power, four large private groups owned almost all the country’s media-a concentration of power already far too dense for political health. The largest was the Dogan group, which controlled some 70 per cent of the nation’s print and broadcast outlets. The group enjoyed warm relations with the AKP until 2007. Then its outlets began reporting details of the Deniz Feneri scandal, the biggest charity corruption case in German history. Billions of dollars raised by this Islamist charity, Dogan newspapers announced, had found their way into AKP coffers. Soon thereafter, the Turkish Ministry of Finance began investigating the group, then levied upon it the largest tax fine ever assessed on a Turkish company. The company is appealing, but if the appeal fails, it will be annihilated.Then there is Sabah, the second-biggest media conglomerate, which controls the largest-circulation daily in Turkey and the powerful ATV television channel. Facing bankruptcy in 2007, it went up for sale. Curiously, all but one bidder dropped out at the last minute. The bidder left standing was the Calik group, whose CEO is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak. A Qatari company, Al-Wasaeel, mysteriously swam up from nowhere to partner Calik’s bid — in defiance of Turkish law, which forbids the foreign financing of the media — and two state banks led by figures close to the AKP, Halk and Vakif, lent Calik $750 million to finance the transaction, even though private banks in Turkey and abroad had declined.Associates of the sect leader Fethullah Gülen, who has been exiled in the US since 1998, control many of these media outlets. No one is quite sure what the reclusive Gülen’s agenda really is, but there is no doubt that before the AKP came to power, he was prosecuted here for trying to establish an Islamic state. Nor is there any doubt that he is close to, and supportive of, the AKP. When Gülen is mentioned in the Western press, usually in passing, almost never is the most important fact about him noted: many Turks fear he’s their Ayatollah Khomeini. I do not know if they are right. But I don’t know that they’re wrong, either, and the people here who tell me his influence is a major cause for concern have proved right about many things. Outside a handful of academic publications, Gülen’s name is rarely mentioned in the Western media, and when it is, he is usually described — as the New York Times recently put it — as a “provincial Turkish preacher” who organises inspiring summer camps.The AKP has by this means brought under its influence most of the media in Turkey, and what it hasn’t purchased or neutered, it has terrified. Since taking office in 2003, Erdogan has launched an energetic series of lawsuits against Turkish journalists and cartoonists for character defamation. No one knows how many have been sued, though the number is probably in the hundreds, and Erdogan has refused to answer this question when asked in parliament.Then there is the hydra-headed Ergenekon case. Ergenekon, supposedly, is an ultra-nationalist terrorist gang that schemed to foment unrest in Turkey by blowing up mosques full of supplicants, shooting down Greek fighter planes and assassinating the Turkish Nobel laureate for literature Orhan Pamuk. The unrest unleashed by this, according to prosecutors, was to be used as a pretext to topple the AKP. A sprawling investigation into this alleged network of shadowy coup-plotters has resulted in the arrest of many prominent journalists critical of the AKP, including the Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet, who is still rotting in jail. Last year, in protest, the front page of Cumhuriyet was left blank but for the words: “If we go silent, who will speak?” I don’t recall seeing this reported anywhere in the international press. If it was, I will assume charitably, David Cameron merely overlooked it. Surely he would not deliberately have ignored it. That would have been cynical.The government, meanwhile, has been locking down larger and larger portions of the internet: more than 1,000 websites have been banned, among them YouTube. Most of these bans have been initiated by the judiciary, not the executive, but the AKP has done nothing to change the laws the judiciary is enforcing.So what’s left? Chiefly such newspapers as Zaman and Yeni Safak — the AKP’s unofficial mouthpiece — which are staunchly Islamist and connected to or controlled by the AKP or the Gülen media empire. Now, cronyism and government influence over the media is nothing new in Turkey; it would be completely misleading to suggest otherwise. What’s new, and disturbing, is the agenda this media consolidation is now serving and the eagerness of foreign journalists to swallow it whole and promote it.