Backlash against the media in Turkey

is a BBC Monitoring journalist

The website of CNN Turk

Part of the reason for the escalation of Turkey’s protest movement was the resentment of those thronging Istanbul's Taksim Square at the sluggish response of the country's media. It quickly became another sign of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism.

In the days after the rallies began, the main TV news channels - not normally slow to report news events - were mostly silent about Turkey's largest and most serious civil unrest in decades.

The sudden hesitancy struck not just TRT Haber - the news channel of state broadcaster TRT - but the major private news channels such as NTV - which is affiliated to US channel MSNBC - 24TV and HaberTurk TV.

CNN Turk, launched as a sister channel to CNN International, was also notably slow to pay attention to the story, although it did slightly better than the others. Even so, the station earned widespread ridicule from protest sympathisers for broadcasting a three-part documentary on penguins just as clashes were erupting between protesters and police on 1 June.

Anger at the media coverage was such that a demonstration was held outside NTV's office and one of its broadcast vans was torched in Taksim Square. Three of the channel's employees resigned in protest at its coverage.

According to the commentator Ardan Zenturk, the mainstream media have lost the public's trust in the past few weeks. "The instant the man on the street begins to think the media is dictated by such factors as the government, the owners' interests, or a tutelage organisation within the state, the risk of social chaos grows," he wrote in the Istanbul Daily Star.

The exception to the media's overall failure to inform the public was the relatively small Halk TV which offered round-the-clock coverage. This is perhaps hardly surprising because the channel supports the main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP), although the party denies funding it directly.

Exasperated by the mainstream media, many Turks turned to social media, which infuriated the authorities. Erdogan responded by describing Twitter as a "menace" and at least 25 people were arrested in the Aegean port city of Izmir on suspicion of spreading "misinformation" - even though the news they had tweeted was also reported by local TV stations.

The media's response to the Taksim protest movement is consistent with Reporters without Borders' 2013 Press Freedom Index which put Turkey in 154th place, behind Russia. And the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported in 2012 that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country.

Traditionally, most restrictions on the media related to the country's long-running Kurdish insurgency, but in recent years the authorities have suppressed criticism of Erdogan and his long-dominant Islamist-rooted AK Party as well.

This was possible at least in part because of the close meshing of Turkey's political system and private business interests.

Some media outlets are loath to offend the authorities because they are part of larger conglomerates that have non-media business interests whose profits depend on winning government tenders.

In the end, criticism of the media’s recent coverage hit home and media outlets began reporting the protests - in part perhaps encouraged by President Abdullah Gul's call for free and fair broadcasting.

Even NTV Haber and 24TV started to pay attention, albeit from a strongly pro-government position. Cem Aydin, the CEO of Dogus Media Group, which owns NTV, even apologised, admitting that criticism of the channel's coverage was "fair to a large extent". CNN Turk also significantly boosted its coverage.

Whether the protest movement fizzles out or not, it remains to be seen whether the TV channels' apparent responsiveness will prove a turning point back to greater media pluralism.

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