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In Turkey, ruling AKP on trial in high court, media

Newspapers and TV have entered a bitter fray between the opposition and the AKP government, accused of undermining the country's secularist ideals.

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"The AKP is utilizing all its tools to control the media, either directly or indirectly. The government has learned how to manipulate the media – you can see this especially in the Ergenekon case," says Kemal Kaya, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. "There is no balance in the support for the government by the pro-government media in Turkey."

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Media critics fault both press camps for their coverage of recent events. Pro-government papers have frequently shown a slavish devotion to the AKP and its defense, they say, while the competition has often gone out of its way to attack the government.

Columnists and editors have entered the fray, publicly accusing their rivals of distorting the truth, and a group of four newspapers have even initiated a lawsuit against a competing paper that accused them of being "pro-coup."

"It appears that some parts of the Turkish media have been in support of Ergenekon," says Bulent Kenes, editor in chief of Today's Zaman, an English-language newspaper that belongs to a media company closely linked to an influential Turkish Islamic movement. "Some of the big media organizations have been trying to blacken the case and trivialize it by producing fabricated news about the Ergenekon case, saying it was a tiny gang and that the government is trying to use it to create pressure on its opposition."

The pro-government press has been particularly critical of the Dogan Group, a media giant that publishes four of Turkey's Top 10 circulation papers, which it says have been less eager to run with the Ergenekon story.

"[That] accusation is not fair," says Sedat Ergin, editor in chief of the influential Milliyet paper, one of the four published by Dogan. "On the contrary, a series of articles we intended to publish on the issue was officially banned by the [case's] prosecutor on the grounds that it might compromise the secrecy of the investigation.

"When such a polarization is rampant, in such a political atmosphere, every debate is held captive by this divide," he adds. "Ideology and strong political convictions become dominant and usually take precedence over the facts."

Indeed, Istanbul's chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, took the media to task for its reporting on the Ergenekon affair when announcing the indictment.

"A great portion of the reports and commentaries were not factual," he said at a press conference. "These reports, to a large extent, led to information pollution and the public was misinformed."

Lost: news readers can believe in

Indeed, what seems to have been lost in Turkey's increasingly bitter journalistic scuffle, say observers, is the chance for readers to find news they really can believe in.

"There is now a gray area in the media, where you cannot get a true picture of what is happening in Turkey," says Dr. Kaya, the scholar at Johns Hopkins. "The truth is missing."