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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.

By Yigal SchleiferCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 29, 2008

Bias: Media critics say newspapers, such as these in Istanbul, are reinforcing opinions rather than informing the public.

Yigal Schleifer



If the media is supposed to serve as a mirror for the society it covers, then the Turkish press may actually be doing too good a job.

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Turkey's highest court takes up a case today against the ruling AK Party (AKP) that has been driving a wedge between secularists and the government, which is rooted in political Islam.

That division is being fiercely reflected in the mass media, where pro-government newspapers and television stations are facing off against pro-secularist media outlets, each being accused of slanting the news in a way that seems to benefit their position. Lost in all of this, critics and some journalists say, is the truth provided by a truly independent media.

"The media has become a battleground," says Bulent Aliriza, director or the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.

"Every newspaper is taking sides, through its columnists and now, increasingly, through its news stories. It's becoming harder to say that there is an independent media with an objective view."

In addition to today's judicial move to close down the liberal Islamic governing party for violating the country's secularist Constitution, the uncovering of an alleged ultranationalist plot to overthrow the government has also polarized Turks. An indictment for the plotters, belonging to a group known as Ergenekon, was filed on July 14 and charged 86 people – among them high-ranking retired military officials – with planning a coup.

"I think the closure case and the Ergenekon case have been a kind of litmus test for the Turkish media," says Yasemin Congar, deputy editor in chief of Taraf, a brash daily launched late last year.

'Unprecedented' government influence

The use of disinformation in the Turkish media is nothing new. Planted press reports were instrumental in the Turkish military's nonviolent ousting in 1997 of the Islamist Welfare Party government – an event that has come to be known as the "postmodern coup."

But the emergence of a powerful Islamic press and some questionable moves by the AKP – such as the recent sale of the bankrupt but influential Sabah ATV media conglomerate to a business group run by the prime minister's son-in-law – have given the government unprecedented influence in the media, critics charge.

In the Ergenekon affair, for example, pro-government papers have been on the receiving end of a constant flow of sensational leaked information – some of it false – about the case.