Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused the Western press of reporting “lies” that misrepresent Turkey. Now his government has decided to tell its own side of the story – reaching foreign audiences directly by setting up an English-language television channel.
According to the spokesman of state broadcasting company, TRT, the English-language channel is the most expensive project in the state broadcasting company’s 50-year history, costing initially $250 million to set up, with offices opening in 30 countries including the U.S., and in European, Latin American and African countries.
“We plan to start broadcasting in 2014. It’s not enough for us to explain ourselves to the world in Turkish,” Birol Uzunay said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. Turkey’s official English-language channel will broadcast news from Turkey for 24 hours per day, seven days a week, he said.
The TRT currently broadcasts in Arabic, Kurdish, Azeri and other regional and Turkic languages, but according to Mr. Uzunay, the government had considered launching an English-language channel for many years.
Media executives say the summer of anti-government protests – which international media covered intensively – provided a catalyst for the ruling Justice and Development Party, also known as the AK Party, to finally make the massive investment.
“TRT executives admitted us that Gezi events had increased the pressure to set up and English-languages channel. They asked our opinion about this channel,” said a Turkish media executive, who attended a private event hosted by the TRT earlier this month in Istanbul introducing the idea.
The foreign media’s coverage of so-called Gezi events, anti-government protests which swept over Turkish cities last summer, angered Mr. Erdogan, who blamed foreign news organizations for ill intentions and for playing into the hands of foreign conspirators. The foreign media reported widely from the protests, criticizing Turkish government’s harsh police crackdown during the demonstrations, while local mainstream media provided scant coverage of the demonstrations.
Recently, Turkey’s government has also started other, smaller-scale initiatives to polish its public image after the protests. In September, Erdogan’s ruling AK Party recruited thousands of young party members to promote government views on social media platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
According to international media watchdogs, Turkish press freedom has severely deteriorated during the last few years. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called Turkey “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”, ranking 154thamong 179 countries in its annual press freedom index.
The government has not been shy to publicly slam the foreign media abroad, either. During official visit to Finland last week, Mr. Erdogan suspected that the Finnish reporter, who asked a question in a press conference about the government’s recent crackdown on co-ed student houses, was “commissioned by someone.”
Kerim Karakaya and Ayla Albayrak
12 November 2013