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Cablegate: Drowning in Tea Leaves - Turkish Press Coverage of The

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Dianne Wampler 04/18/2007 05:18:29 PM From DB/Inbox: Dianne Wampler

Cable
Text:


UNCLAS ANKARA 00906

SIPDIS
CX:
ACTION: PA
INFO: ECON AMB DCM POL PMA

DISSEMINATION: PAO /1
CHARGE: PAS

APPROVED: A/PAO: MEMCKAY
DRAFTED: POL: JWEINER
CLEARED: NONE

VZCZCAYI995
RR RUEHC RUEHIT RUEHDA
DE RUEHAK #0906/01 1071008
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171008Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1769
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 2537
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1865

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000906

SIPDIS

FOR EUR/SE; EUR/PPD - TDAVIDSON, JRICKERT; INR/R/EUR
ISTANBUL FOR PAO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC PGOV KPAO TU
SUBJECT: Drowning in Tea Leaves - Turkish Press Coverage of the
Presidential Elections

REF: Ankara 898

1. Summary: As the Turkish Presidential election begins officially,
the media's coverage leading up to the election has been obsessed
with "will he or won't he," playing a guessing game rather than
conducting any serious analysis of what it would mean for the
country, should PM Erdogan become president. The Prime Minister has
until now, by most critics' accounts, played a cagey game, refusing
to give any clear indication as to whether or not he will run.
This, along with an anemic opposition, Turkey's unique brand of
democratic politics, and the media's reluctance to play a role in
civil society, has left the media drowning in their own tea leaves.
End Summary.

Frenzied Oracles

2. Press speculation on whether or not Prime Minister Erdogan could
become president started in a significant way last fall and has
continued throughout the last several months, building in intensity.
From the beginning, both beat reporters and columnists have asked
one primary question: "Will he or won't he?" Every utterance from an
AKP member, in particular from the Prime Minister, is fodder for a
new front page story. On the eve of the elections, for instance,
the PM remarked to journalists, "It doesn't matter whether I'm Prime
Minister or President, like everyone, I will end up in a grave
someday." This, along with other equally opaque comments, was
sufficient to cause journalists to speculate that he will run for
President.

3. In contrast, a PM comment six weeks ago that "our lives are full
of surprises, there might be a surprise" caused reporters to
speculate that the PM would not run for office. Commentators, too,
fill countless column inches looking for signs in every off-the-cuff
remark. Some, tiring of the normal speculation, use their columns
to analyze their colleagues' obsession with the speculation.
Turkish Daily News columnist Yusuf Kanli said in a recent piece that
only four people know - the PM and his wife and FM Gul and his wife
- and they're laughing to themselves. Meanwhile, Zaman columnist
Mustafa Unal recently praised the PM for not revealing his
intentions. Unal rightly points out that previous presidents Ozal,
Demirel and Sezer also were announced last minute. By withholding a
public announcement, Unal argues, the PM has avoided a damaging
campaign.

Where's the analysis?

4. The reasons why the media are stuck in the speculative sphere
include concrete factors such as an anemic opposition that seems
unable or unwilling to put forth serious policy alternatives. While
AKP members are content to throw out ambiguous comments, the
opposition spits venomous warnings about headscarved women in
Cankaya (anathema to Turkey's "secular" elite) and raises red
herring arguments such as the possibility that the PM's past
criminal conviction (on a freedom of speech charge) could prevent
him from becoming president. This leaves the press with little of
substance to report on. Even if a journalist might be inspired to
think beyond the "will he or won't he" question, many journalists
don't see any constructive reason to do so. As mainstream daily
Hurriyet Bureau Chief Enis Berberoglu says, "Why write something
positive about Erdogan that could be used as propaganda in his
campaign?"

5. The fact that the president is chosen by the parliament - which
is firmly controlled by the AKP - also means journalists and even
normal citizens do not play an active role in the process.
Journalists, according to MFA Spokesman Levent Bilman, probably
believe it is a "done deal" so don't see the need to expend any
serious energy on it. Others cite the media itself as the major
factor. Leyla Tasvanoglu of nationalist daily Cumhuriyet says, "Few
journalists are serious, they go their own ways." Business daily
Dunya columnist Mithat Melen adds, "Editors don't want to upset the
government, so journalists don't write anything serious," a reminder
of the convoluted and murky relationships between the government and
media that play heavily in how news gets reported (reftel).

Islamists vs. Secularists

6. When reporters have moved past the simple will-won't question,
their reporting has split predictably down secularist-Islamist
lines. Columnists for Islamic oriented dailies Zaman and Yeni Safak
have written with increasing stridency that the debate about the
presidency is really about elite secularists wanting to exclude the
country's majority from governing. Zaman columnist Etyen
Mahcupyan's view that "the bureaucratic elite feel democracy is a
regime that reflects their own preferences, not the public's" is a
typical example.

7. Secularist press reports, both straight reporting and opinion
pieces, range from mild references to the specter of secret Islamist
agendas to Cumhuriyet's highly dramatic paid advertising campaign in
which a black and white picture of a clock appears above the words,
"the clock is about to turn back 100 years." Add to this the
constant speculation of the military's intentions as well as a
persistent conspiracy theory that the US is really backing an AKP
candidate, and you have a rich and spicy stew, but without much
meat.

8. Comment: Until a presidential candidate is announced, the current
tenor of coverage - speculative and biased - will likely continue
and even intensify. Once a candidate is announced, some substance
may appear but serious analysis is unlikely, given the unique, long
existing structure of both the political and media systems. End
comment.
WILSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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