By Kate O’Sullivan and Laura Benitez Apr 8 2014
“Journalists wanted for international news agency,” read the Guardian job ad. As an editor in an industry where legitimate opportunities are few and far between, you apply for pretty much any full-time job you see, so apply we did. A couple of months later, we arrived in Ankara, Turkey, ready to “write history” as the first international journalists to be welcomed into the Anadolu Agency (AA) family.
We joined the agency in January, supposedly to edit English-language news, but quickly found ourselves becoming English-language spin doctors. The AA’s editorial line on domestic politics—and Syria—was so intently pro-government that we might as well have been writing press releases. Two months into the job, we listened to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç talking some shit about press freedom from an event at London’s Chatham House, downplaying the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Soon after that, we got the chance to visit London on business. We grabbed it and resigned as soon as we hit UK soil.
Established in 1920, the AA was once a point of national pride. Today, it’s at the end of one of the many sets of strings in the ruling AK Party’s puppet parade. Most of Turkey’s TV stations are heavily influenced by the state, and the few opposition channels can expect to have their licenses revoked at any time or be banned from broadcasting key events, such as live election footage or anything that might detract from how fantastic the government is doing.
For example, Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, fined the networks that aired footage of last year’s Gezi Park protests. Funnily enough, the watchdog is made up of nine “elected” members nominated by political parties—and the more seats in parliament a faction has, the more influence it possesses.
Media outlets that aren’t being hounded by RTUK can always look forward to direct intervention from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. In 2009, independent mogul Aydin Dogan’s media group—made up of various newspapers and TV channels, CNN Türk, and a news agency—was fined $2.5 billion for evading taxes. Incidentally, the audit came just after one of the group’s platforms published news on the Lighthouse charity scandal, which saw a German court convict three Turkish businessmen for funnelling $28.3 million into their personal accounts.
In one recent leaked recording, Erdogan is heard asking his former justice minister to ensure that Dogan be punished. Since then, the Dogan empire has been bound and gagged accordingly.
The international media relies increasingly on local sources when reporting domestic affairs overseas. The Gezi protests aside—which had nearly as many “live blogs” as protesters—much of Turkey’s English-language news came via Today’s Zaman, the largest English-language newspaper in Turkey. The leadership of the Zaman newsgroup is closely linked with the Islamic teacher and international education mogul Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the AK Party who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
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