In a June 15, 2020 op-ed for Turkeyscope, “How Erdoğan Controls Turkey’s Information Space,” POMED’s Turkey Program Coordinator Merve Tahiroğlu writes on the Turkish government’s efforts to control media outlets through censorship, propaganda, and misinformation.

Below is a key excerpt from the piece.

Turkey intensified its crackdown because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not want negative news about the pandemic to damage his political image, provoke public unrest, and ultimately push the currency into a crisis. But information control is nothing new for the Turkish president. In fact, it has been a hallmark of his rule—at the core of his effort to centralize and consolidate power.

For Erdoğan, a populist ruler in a majoritarian democracy, public image is a top priority. He is obsessed with keeping tabs on the public pulse and retains a close network of pollsters. Having entered national politics in 2002 as an Islamist outcast, by 2011 he came to win nearly 50 percent of votes—exceptional for a Turkish politician. Erdoğan sees himself as a “man of the people” and frequently invokes the “people’s will” to justify controversial policies. Even as his popularity has waned—his party polled under 40 percent in the last election—he has continued to boast about his election results as proof of his broad support and legitimacy.

Many authoritarian leaders project this image by rigging elections—manufacturing consent where it does not exist. This has not exactly been Erdoğan’s modus operandi. While his government stands accused of some election fraud, the voting process in Turkey remains by and large free. Rather than fixing results, he allows elections to proceed—but with an unfair playing field heavily tilted to his advantage.

Read the full op-ed here.

Photo Credit: Zeitungen/Wikimedia Commons