Following Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul, the Turkish government imposed (what it called) a “limited” ban on news. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus claimed the ban was enacted to prevent the “public order from being very seriously undermined.” However, the reality is a slightly different from that.
Media blackouts in the secular republic are becoming somewhat a norm. In March 2015, the government ordered a similar ban after a hostage situation in an Istanbul courthouse. In October, the government issued another gag order after the Ankara blasts.
In fact, between 2010 and 2014, the authorities reportedly placed over 150 different bans on media reporting in the country.
“At every crisis, larger or smaller in scale, the Turkish government's knee-jerk reaction has been to gag the media," explained Nina Ognianova, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. While there are other sources of information apart from local news channels, social media for instance, the censorship still restricts information for a large part of the population.
“Television is still the biggest, most influential news source in Turkey, particularly in rural, provincial areas where Internet penetration is still low,” Ognianova added.
It is true such bans cannot make the news go away — especially in the age of instantaneous information — but they, nevertheless, manage to give authorities more time to gain control over how the crises are being reported. Along with influencing the narrative, the blackouts also help authorities recognize their supporters and dissenters.
“Given that the government effectively controls much of the mainstream media, once it has made its position clear, it would then be able to ensure that the main channels report on the bombing following an established government line,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, director of programs at press freedom group Article 19. “The government may be trying to delay reporting on the attacks by independent commentators, in order to try and establish its own narrative regarding the attacks.”
Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to expand the powers of his presidency, many believe these bans are enacted to bolster his tough image. It is no secret that along with freedom of speech being targeted repeatedly, prosecutions and threats against journalists have also seen a spike under Erdogan’s rule as prime minister and then as president.