Turkey reached the end of an early election period that saw bombings, mob violence, the burning of party offices, political arrests, a nationwide media clampdown and military curfew in the Kurdish region of the country. After failing to establish a majority government in the 7 June elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory with 49 percent of the popular vote. Ranging from announcements of a “Ballot Box Revolution” to “Fear’s Triumph,” media responses differed drastically. TV coverage of joyful celebrations by AKP supporters on the streets were matched with a sense of shock and incredulity circulating through social media among the supporters of opposition parties. They have been sharply awakened from the dream of ending the AKP’s monopoly over state power and preventing the implementation of a ‘Turkish-style’ super presidency. In the wake of these general elections, what is it about Turkey’s media culture that it undergirds the formation of a society so divided, that people seem to inhabit parallel realities?
Take the media reporting on the recent Ankara bombings, when two explosions near the Ankara Central railway station left 102 dead and more than 400 injured. The victims were about to participate in the “Labour, Peace and Democracy Rally” that was organized by dissident trade unions and civil society organizations to call for an end to the fighting between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), reignited after the June 7 elections. Casualties included many activists, unionists and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) members.
The aftermath of the Ankara bombings has seen not less but more ambiguity around who ought to be identified as a “terrorist.”
We soon noticed that different stories about the bombings emerged in domestic and international media. On 12 October, we compared top search results for the international domain of google.com to the Turkish domain google.com.tr, using a ‘research browser’ (which cancels Google’s personalization of results). In the former domain, top-ranked international news sources cited Turkish security sources to report that ISIL was the chief suspect behind the attacks. The Turkish domain results, however, were dominated by national pro-AKP media that implicated the PKK alongside ISIL, echoing prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s speech on national television.