On March 5th, Turkish readers have witnessed a new low in press freedom and media pluralism in the country. Even though Turkey has been scoring terrible at international press freedom ratings and there have been several notorious cases when bad journalism has caused a lot of harm, a new record has been achieved thanks to 14 columnists from several newspapers. All the columnists in this case have used the same headline to defend a fabricated piece of news and tried to generate a kind of victimhood out of a lie that was constructed to instigate a counter-protest during in June 2013 and start violence in streets.
During the Occupy Gezi protests, a journalist had tweeted a notorious message stating that a gang of over a hundred half naked men in leather fetish clothes had attacked a turbaned woman with a stroller in Istanbul’s Kabataş district, chrused her baby on the ground, peed on her head and rubbed their penises on her face. This highly “imaginative” lie had been taken up by several other journalists and columnists, the person who was acclaimed to have experienced this incident later came up with doctor reports that she had been attacked. Later -by then Prime Minister- Erdoğan also piled up on the lie and stated that there is video footage of all that has happened and all would be publicized “soon”.
Even though there has passed over 1,5 years, no video of an attack has been released. The security camera footage has been found though. In the video, the person who is acclaimed to have been attacked is visible, however there is no gang, not one “half naked man wearing leather fetish clothes” and no incident of an attack in the vicinity.
Previously, one of the journalists who had claimed to see the video footage of gang sexually assaulting a woman had come clean and said “there is no such video and me insisting to have said it was utter stupidity”. Recently the lawyer of the journalist who originally had tweeted the message, appeared on TV stating that it was actually fabricated news and admitted the lie. Upon this, the pro-government media has taken up this case again and marked a new low in the field of “bad journalism”. From several newspapers, 14 columns have actually been published with the same headline and with more or less the same content. Previous low record of seven newspapers publishing the same headlines has thus been surpassed.
The discussion regarding the Kabataş lie had resurfaced when at a live TV program the renowned journalist İsmail Saymaz had said “you will be put on trial” to those who had acted as part of the Kabataş provocation of the government. Several journalists left the TV program upon hearing the presumption of Saymaz, and very quickly all 14 columns have appeared in various newspapers.
The columnists then elaborated on the publications and stated that their aim was to show solidarity with those who had initially written about the “Kabataş incident” as the lawyer had come out on live TV and admitted the fabrication of the news.
A call for massacre?
Turkish history has seen several psychological warfare operations that are initiated via fabricated news and manipulation of perception through use of media propaganda. Several massacres and pogroms even took place in this part of the world due to such headlines and fabricated news; and such claims as Kabataş can be assessed in the same manner. Upon repeated use and exaggeration of fabricated news such as “gang of half naked men sexually assaulting a turbaned woman” or “drunk orgies in mosques”, the governing party had aimed to instigate Turkish islamists to violence. Combined with the popular pro-Erdoğan slogan of the time “let us crush Gezi”, this strategy of fabricating news and media manipulation proves extremely dangerous.
Fortunately, even the targeted audience of such columns and fabricated news pieces must have found these statements to be extremely imaginative that very few people seemed to believe and act on it. However, in spite of the lack of video footage showing the attacks or orgies, the political leadership continues to recite these fabricated events and use them as facts right before the election process accelerates in Turkey.