(Bloomberg) — Only a handful of Turkish media outlets jumped on the hot news that the president’s son-in-law had resigned as the country’s economy czar, a troubling sign in a nation already under fire for its abysmal record on free speech.
Turkey has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s top jailers of journalists, but it had previously trained its sights on critics of the government. That it would muzzle news of Berat Albayrak’s resignation shows just how extensively the all-powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cowed the country’s once-freewheeling press into submission, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu charged on Tuesday.
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Most media outlets took more than 24 hours to report that Albayrak, who’s married to Erdogan’s oldest daughter, had quit, leaving millions of Turks to click on to YouTube broadcasts to hear the breaking story. The press continued to keep mum even after the lira rallied the most in two years, only reporting the news after the president’s office said late Monday that the resignation had been accepted.
That silence — echoing the muteness of government officials — demonstrates how intense the pressure is on mainstream media to toe the ruling AK Party line, said Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
“Only five of 1,780 radio and television stations reported the resignation” before Albayrak confirmed it the following day on social media, Kilicdaroglu said. The others, he said, have become a “pool media,” or palace press.
Opposition parties accuse the government of becoming increasingly authoritarian since a failed 2016 coup, and Erdogan’s assumption of vast powers with the shift to an executive presidency. He’s used those powers in part to clamp down on free expression.
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“Turkey’s press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment,” the Committee to Protect Journalists and 10 other international press freedom and human-rights organizations said in a statement last month.
Last year was the first time in four that Turkey wasn’t the world’s top jailer, coming in second only to China.