ANKARA – A rival candidate against Turkey’s ruling AKP party in the mayoralty of Istanbul was being interviewed on television when the transmission suddenly ended.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the 49-year-old current mayor of Istanbul’s district of Beylikduzu and Republican People’s Party candidate for the next office, was speaking on the set when the broadcast cut to one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s daily meetings.
“The main criteria for reporting has become to please, or not to anger, Erdogan,” said Faruk Bildirici, a senior journalist who worked in mainstream media for 39 years. “Journalists’ news reflex is now based on not receiving an angry call from the Palace,” he told EFE in an exclusive interview.
Bildirici, who previously worked at the daily newspaper Hurriyet, defined most of Turkey’s papers as “propaganda bulletins of the government” and “joint disinformation sources.”
Bildirici recently lost his job at Hurriyet after he complained that the newspaper did not report the harassment of women protesters but statements released by the Interior Minister about such incidents two days later.
Meanwhile, Erdogan, who is not running in the local elections due to take place Sunday, gets wide press coverage for his AKP party’s campaign with several channels of television broadcasting interviews on prime time schedules every week.
The lack of balance in the coverage in Turkish media, of which 90 percent is controlled by companies close to the AKP government, is the main problem facing the Turkish opposition during this election campaign, according to a report by the International Press Institute.
While there were 55 hours of broadcasts favorable to the AKP and its ally, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), by public broadcaster TRT during the first two weeks of March, the coverage given to opposition formations totaled 10 hours, and most of them reflected some critical angles.
“Seven hours were totally negative news about the main opposition party, the CHP and the nationalist liberal-conservative and secularist Iyi Party,” Ismet Demirdogen, a member of Turkey’s Supreme Council of Radio and Television, told EFE.
“In these two weeks, there was not a single positive piece of news about the Democratic Party of the HDP Peoples (left pro-Kurdish) part,” he added.
“The TRT broadcaster has never had to clash with justice,” said Temel Karamollaoglu, leader of the Felicity Party. “They go ahead and make deals with all parties about broadcasting advertisements. They did that with us, too, but then they stopped broadcasting two of our advertisements and reduced the broadcasting frequencies of others, three instead of 10 times. Why? Because their bosses tell them what to do,” said Karamollaoglu.
On several occasions, the media has covered AKP ministers who criticized statements from opposition candidates without ever showing statements from the opposition.
The government and much of the media routinely accuse opposition parties of links with terrorist organizations, a trend that has been on the rise to such a point that a week ago the editor of Yeni Akit, an Islamic fundamentalist Turkish daily newspaper, asked for the execution of the leader of CHP.