By Leyla AmurAs Turkish politicians exert their campaigning energy in the final stretch before the constitutional referendum on April 16, certain segments of the Turkish populace are raising their eyebrows at coverage of the upcoming vote.
On Tuesday, state-owned, Ankara-based Anadolu Agency (AA) announced that it was “ready” to provide nationwide and international coverage on the referendum results as votes are being counted on Sunday.
What is not mentioned in AA’s announcement is that the other two news agencies that have previously delivered election results – Cihan News Agency and Doğan News Agency – will not take part in tallying ballots. The Cihan News Agency was closed in July 2016, and the Doğan News Agency remains under the government’s constant gaze decided not to report on results, ‘voluntarily’. Therefore, the referendum will be the first election results reported by only one source, state news agency.
The referendum will put 18 proposed amendments to a vote, the most significant changing Turkey’s parliamentary system to a presidential system, further enhancing Erdoğan’s powers. Campaigning efforts to bring public awareness about the vote quickly devolved into “yes” and “no” factions.
The referendum campaign is set against the backdrop of the government tightening its grip on journalists and media outlets in the country, which has been under a state of emergency since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, granting the executive branch power to issue executive decrees. According to a recent Independent article, about 231 journalists have been jailed, while 149 media outlets have been shut down as part of these recent emergency laws.
These imprisoned journalists have been accused of conspiring with terrorist organizations, particularly with Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) allegedly led by Islamic cleric Fetullah Gülen. The government also claims that members of FETO were the orchestrators behind the foiled putsch, a position that has been furthered in part by AA’s coverage. These allegations have continued ahead of the referendum, with reportings that people across from Turkey are getting arrested or accused over connections to FETO in the weeks leading up to the vote.
Before talk of the referendum, the AA had been criticized in Turkish media circles for towing the government’s line, particularly after relations soured between once-allies President Erdoğan and Gülen in 2013.
When the previous director general, Kemal Öztürk, resigned from his post in August 2014, the AA committee in charge of appointments did not stray too far ideologically in assigning Şenol Kazancı to the position. Kazancı was a writer at daily Yeni Şafak, a government mouthpiece, and advisor to Erdoğan. Before joining AA, Öztürk had also served as an advisor to Erdoğan.
‘Yes’: 4113 minutes, ‘No’: 217 minutes
The results of the referendum will be the culmination of a campaign that has received lopsided coverage, resulting in uneven airtimes. Time given to the Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and supporters pushing the “yes” line reached 4,113 minutes by the end of March. This is compared to time allocated to the People’s Republican Party (CHP) at 216 minutes and the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) at a wholesome one minute.
Recent AA headlines on its English site read some variation of “Mega Yes rally in Istanbul ahead of April 16 referendum” or “With 1 week until referendum, Erdoğan stumps in Izmir,” while underreporting on “no” efforts undertaken by members of opposition parties. This glosses over figures such as Meral Akşener, member of the nationalist party MHP, who has been able to hold rallies attracting thousands of supporters, or constant criticism against Erdoğan levied by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP.
Opinion polling results released on Thursday showed that the “yes” camp will win by a narrow margin. Both Konda and Gezici reported that “yes” voters stood at 51.5% and 51.3%, respectively. However, Konda has stated that there was a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4% in either direction. Reuters reported that the average of polls it had collected places the “yes” camp at 50.9%. Though also reported by conservative journalist that 4 out of 5 voters, comparing 1 out of 2 in the past, avoid telling pollster which way he or she is going to vote, due to difficult circumstances in Turkey.
With as momentous a vote to change the country’s political landscape, does the AA – with questionable editorial policies – really stand to fairly deliver results to the Turkish people?
In the first general elections of 2015 in June, the Cihan News Agency and AA both reported on the results, releasing varying figures, with the biggest variation of votes gained by the AKP – a difference of 2%.