Erdoğan aide accuses Reuters of publishing false information about government-media relations

Turkey’s presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun has accused Reuters news agency of publishing misleading and false information in a special report released by the agency on Wednesday, revealing the extent of government control over Turkish media. .

The Reuters special report examined how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government control Turkish media with a range of tools that include the use of regulatory institutions, advertising bans, media takeovers from opposition and the blatant threat of imprisonment for those who do not. follow the official line.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Altun denied the Reuters report’s claims, saying the direction Reuters targeted is a sign that “we’re on the right track and a badge of honor.”

“This is not the first time that Reuters, a systematic perception and manipulation operations apparatus targeting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Türkiye, has published misleading and false information,” Altun tweeted in English.

The Communications Directorate controls newsrooms, according to more than a dozen industry insiders who spoke to Reuters. Former professor Altun leads the 1,500-person directorate set up by Erdoğan in a skyscraper in Ankara. Altun, 45, who previously worked at a pro-government think tank, was little known in the news industry when Erdoğan appointed him chairman of his new communications directorate in 2018.

The directorate, which has an annual budget of $38 million, coordinates government communications. His responsibilities include countering “systemic disinformation attacks” against Turkey.

When there is major news that could harm Erdoğan or his government, Altun contacts editors and key correspondents to prepare coverage, Reuters quoted an insider as saying.

Altun also accused Reuters of previously publishing manipulative reporting on Turkey on a wide range of issues such as its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, twisting Erdoğan’s statements and making part of “economics and finance”. operations targeting Turkey.

The communications director said the agency’s manipulative reporting could be linked to an economic crisis hitting Europe.

“We understand that the economic crisis in Europe is hurting your organization as well as the UK. It seems you choose to report from behind your desk because it’s cheaper and easier,” Altun said, urging the agency to report on its own.

Despite Altun’s refusal to interfere in the media, Reuters said it saw screenshots showing Altun’s management sending WhatsApp messages to mainstream media editors to highlight or avoid certain comments from members of the cabinet or party. Lawmakers from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are calling newsrooms to demand that certain speeches be reported or presented differently, according to reporters. An editor explained that editors are often told that the Communications Branch reviews and edits article titles and editorials.

The Turkish government is accused of taking Turkish media under almost absolute control following a failed military coup in 2016. The government shut down hundreds of media outlets and jailed dozens of critical journalists during post-coup repression under the pretext of an anti-coup campaign.

Journalists run the risk of losing their jobs, being subjected to judicial harassment and being imprisoned for even the slightest criticism of the government.

Turkey was ranked 149th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, the prominent news organization warning of rising authoritarianism in the country and the decline of media pluralism.

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