Democracy is not possible with the media, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stressed, arguing that even the most powerful countries in today’s world are being ruled by the media as his latest trips to the United States and Germany have shown, according to a report by the pro-government Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday.
“I have seen that these giant countries are being governed by the media and not by their leaders. Because whenever I spoke with them they were saying, ‘Our media say this, our media write that.’ And I told them, ‘Just forget the media, tell me what your people say’,” Erdoğan said in a speech on the occasion of the beginning of the new academic year in Ankara on Wednesday.
President Erdoğan was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly where he had some bilateral talks with foreign leaders before paying a three-day state visit to Germany last week. International media, particularly US and European outlets, have long been criticizing the Turkish government led by Erdoğan for the pressure imposed on the media and journalists in Turkey.
In the past, the Turkish media had run Turkey claiming itself as the fourth power, but what the government cares about is the people itself, Erdoğan said and added: “What is important for us is how our people judge us. Democracy is empowered by the people. There is a democracy if there are people. Democracy is not possible with the media. And it is not possible for a politician to pursue sound politics if he or she is afraid of the media,” said Erdoğan.
Citing a growing international “smear campaign by the foreign media and academic circles against Turkey” amid its efforts to overcome economic turbulence and to fight multiple terrorist organizations, Erdoğan called on Turkish academics to lend support to his government’s efforts to fight them.
“There is so much inaccurate information against us in the Western media,” Erdoğan claimed and added: “We need to work to correct them. We need the support of our academics in what I call a national campaign against all of it. They can back this struggle by explaining the truth about our country on their own merits.”
The crackdown on critical thinking in Turkey with an unprecedented witch hunt targeting teachers, academics and other professionals in the education sector has dealt a huge blow to free thought in Turkey, according to a report released by the SCF.
The government of President Erdoğan has jailed some 20,000 instructors and arbitrarily fired 34,185 public school teachers and 5,719 academics including professors from state universities within the last two years alone. They were branded as “terrorists” and “coup plotters” without any effective administrative or judicial probe and as such marked for life.
The government shut down 1,069 privately run schools, most of which were the nation’s best performing science schools and were affiliated with the Gülen movement, and closed down 15 universities that were run by privately held foundations.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.