Turks will head to the polls to choose their next president on June 24. Members of the opposition claim that the main media outlets, both public and private, are favouring the current government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is campaigning for re-election. In parallel, Turkish organisations and small parties are campaigning for something else – for Turks to openly debate the news.
At the beginning of May, millions of social media users believed President Erdogan when he said that he would resign if people wanted him to. The word "#Tamam" ["Enough" in English] started trending on social media. Today, the opposition is preparing to denounce what they say will be an unfair vote. In the past few years, the opposition has been subject to a series of purges and mass arrests, all after the attempted coup on July 15, 2016.
Associations, but also citizens without partisan leanings, have been speaking out against the government’s control on mass media. They are calling on Turks to turn off their televisions so as to avoid what they call “lies” and “government propaganda”.
“The Turkish media lies”
Hande Gazey, 30, is a doctor in Ankara and member of the opposition movement known as Haziran Hareketi, or the United June movement.
Almost all media outlets in Turkey are controlled by Erdogan’s government. We believe these media outlets lie. They say, for example, that there is no economic crisis in Turkey right now [Editor’s note: Inflation is rising and the currency is in free fall, according to French newspaper Le Monde].
They barely give any time to other parties and political movements. There are six candidates for the next presidential election on June 24, but we only see Erdogan on television. It’s a shame. Especially because some of our taxes fund public television, which does everything except “public service”.
The United June Movement (Haziran Hareketi) is made up of members of the civil society and small opposition parties. It was born of the Gezi protests. Encouraged by the trending of the word "tamam" on social media, Haziran Hareketi launched a campaign under the hashtag #KapatGitsin [#ShutThem, in English]. Leaders of this movement, which I am part of, told members to turn off their televisions and gather in parks to discuss news and politics freely.”
Since May 18, Turks have been taking to social media to post videos of themselves turning off their televisions as a sign of protest.
This video captures a more modern version of the campaign, where a Turkish social media user filmed the moment when he unfollowed the Twitter account of the Turkish president.
The media plays an important role during elections and can influence the decisions of voters. The idea is to show these media oulets and the government that we are united and powerful, and that they can’t steal our voices. We have decided to monitor the vote, as there were numerous voting irregularities reported during the referendum last year.
READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Turkey: Videos show electoral fraud and ballot stuffing
"The police filmed us to intimidate us”
We gathered in several different parks on the evening of May 18. In my neighbourhood, there were about 50 of us. We talked a lot, played games and discussed the political situation. The next day, people from all over the capital were invited to meet in Batikent Park, where two journalists from the opposition media BirGün [Editor’s note: One of the only ones to have resisted waves of arrests carried out by the government] spoke to us about their working conditions and the political climate.
At the end of the assembly, we talked a lot about the large-scale economic crisis that we feel is coming, especially after election results are in. We are afraid that we’ll end up like Greece.
On Friday and Saturday, the police came to see what was going on. We explained to them that we weren’t protesting and that we were just talking peacefully in a park. But on Saturday, they took photos and videos of us, probably to frighten us. For me, that’s a form of intimidation.
"The government has created a feeling of fear for journalists”
On Saturday May 19, journalist Berkant Gültekin de BirGün, 31, spoke at one of these meetings.
I work for one of the last independent media organisations in Turkey. I think that the campaign to turn off your TV is important for two reasons. First of all, the government is very tough on the media and has created a feeling of fear among journalists. Next, it’s important to know that most Turkish media outlets are owned by two big media groups [Editor’s note: Except for a few independent media outlets like BirGün, Cumhuriyet and Evrensel], who don’t want to get on the wrong side of the government.
The United June Movement isn’t the first to use parks and other public spaces to counter government repression. In 2016, several different professors, who were ousted during the purges that followed the coup attempt, organised lectures in Ankara’s parks.
READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> Sacked Turkish academics take lectures to the streets