The protests the Turkish press isn’t talking about

What’s happening in Turkey? If you’re actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been ...

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What's happening in Turkey? If you're actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been relegated to later pages in Turkish dailies. Photos posted on social media (like the one above) have shown side-by-side comparisons of CNN International and CNN Turk, the news network's Turkish affiliate. While the global broadcast showed a live feed of protests, the Turkish channel offered up a cooking show and a documentary, Spy in the Huddle, about penguins.

Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the societal effects of social media as a fellow at Princeton and has been tracking the Internet-fueled spread of the protests, cited this disconnect as "a striking example of what media cowardice and self-censorship looks like." Nor is it a new occurrence in Turkey, she points out:

Many major news events, recently, have been broken on Twitter including the accidental bombing of Kurdish smugglers in Roboski (Uludere in Turkish) which killed 34 civilians, including many minors.  That story was denied and ignored by mainstream TV channels while the journalists knew something had happened. Finally, one of them, Serdar Akinan, was unable to suppress his own journalist instincts and bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government. Serdar, unfortunately, got fired from his job as a journalist.

What’s happening in Turkey? If you’re actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been relegated to later pages in Turkish dailies. Photos posted on social media (like the one above) have shown side-by-side comparisons of CNN International and CNN Turk, the news network’s Turkish affiliate. While the global broadcast showed a live feed of protests, the Turkish channel offered up a cooking show and a documentary, Spy in the Huddle, about penguins.

Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the societal effects of social media as a fellow at Princeton and has been tracking the Internet-fueled spread of the protests, cited this disconnect as "a striking example of what media cowardice and self-censorship looks like." Nor is it a new occurrence in Turkey, she points out:

Many major news events, recently, have been broken on Twitter including the accidental bombing of Kurdish smugglers in Roboski (Uludere in Turkish) which killed 34 civilians, including many minors.  That story was denied and ignored by mainstream TV channels while the journalists knew something had happened. Finally, one of them, Serdar Akinan, was unable to suppress his own journalist instincts and bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government. Serdar, unfortunately, got fired from his job as a journalist.

CNN Turk has been tweeting about the protests and posting content to its website, but the lack of broadcast coverage of the protests has led to some strong critiques (including this one, in GIF form, via Uproxx). A Change.org petition calling on CNN to pull its name from the Turkish affiliate has already gathered more than 60,000 signatures.

CNN is only a partial owner of the CNN Turk channel. Though it helped advise the station before its launch in 1999, CNN quickly withdrew from the day-to-day operation of the network, according to an article by Laura Peterson in the American Journalism Review in 2000. "[M]any Turkish  journalists believe CNN’s image as an ethical standard-bearer has the potential to raise the bar in a country where nightly news generally consists of celebrity gossip, political machine-gunning and salacious stories of the deviant and depraved," Peterson wrote, while noting some editorial choices at CNN Turk, including referring to a contested region of Cyprus as "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and branding Islamist groups "fundamentalist" and "terrorist" in advance of the election of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party that swept into power in 2002.

In recent years, Turkish news outlets have had to contend with an extensive government campaign against journalists. In its 2012 annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Turkey "the world’s worst jailer of the press" — with 49 journalists imprisoned on various charges as of Dec. 1, 2012.

J. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network. Twitter: @jdanastuster

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