Turkey’s mainstream media outlets have been widely criticized for paying little attention to the mass demonstrations. CNN Turk — which has a franchising agreement with CNN but operates editorially independent from the U.S.-based news network — famously aired a documentary about penguins while other networks, including CNN International, carried live footage of the protests. (Penguins have since become the symbol of protest among many demonstrators against the media’s lack of coverage.) The day after tens of thousands flooded Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest, Turkey’s top-selling newspaper, owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law, ran a front page story on the Prime Minister’s antismoking campaign.
While many Turks have turned to Twitter and Facebook instead (Erdogan recently called Twitter a “menace to society“), other TV news outlets have also helped fill the void. But according to the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet, the government’s Radio and Television Supreme Council fined them for doing so, claiming that they were “harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people” by broadcasting coverage of the protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
One of the channels fined included Halk TV, which according to the New York Times, “has ties to an opposition political party known by its Turkish acronym, C.H.P.,” and “has been broadcasting nearly continuously with live footage of the protests.”
Erdogan’s government has been notorious for cracking down on dissent and limiting press freedom. In 2009, Turkish authorities fined the Doğan Group, then the largest media company in Turkey, $2.5 billion in unpaid taxes in what a recent CAP report notes “was widely viewed as a political move to punish Doğan for its media outlets’ negative coverage” of Erdogan and his political party, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
And because big media companies in Turkey are owned by conglomerates that have larger interests in other industries such as construction or energy, parent companies have been more likely to comply with pressure to lay off government criticism in order to avoid jeopardizing access to large government contracts.
The chief executive of Dogus Media, the parent company of one of Turkey’s largest TV news channels, NTV, apologized this week to viewers and employees for the channel’s lack of coverage of the protests. “Our audience feels like they were betrayed,” Cem Aydin said to employees according to the Times. “Our professional responsibility is to report everything in the way it happens. The pursuit of balance within the imbalanced environment affected us, as it did the other media outlets,” he said, adding, “We owe you and our audience an apology.”
In a seeming effort to tamp down perceptions that the government has responded too harshly against the protesters, Erdogan reportedly met with some of the movement’s leading figures this week and offered a compromise, according to the Times, “proposing a public referendum to decide the fate of the park, where the government plans to build a mall designed to look like an Ottoman-era army barracks.” But the Prime Minister isn’t waiting too long and on Thursday issued a “final” warning to the demonstrators to clear Gezi Park and Taksim Square.