Gezi Park Protests and New Discursive Spaces

Curator's Note

In early June 2013, anti-government protests were raging in Istanbul and across several cities in Turkey. On mainstream media, however, there was a total blackout— an outcome of the political economic alliances between media conglomerates and the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party). As major news channels (NTV, CNNTurk, HaberTurk) chose to ignore the protests and the police violence, they came to be labeled “penguin media,” in reference to a penguin documentary CNNTurk was broadcasting on the night of intense clashes in central Istanbul. In the meantime, pro-government outlets were engaged in a heavy disinformation campaign that portrayed protestors as minions in a foreign conspiracy.

The Gezi Park protests brought into sharp focus the long-standing malaise of news media in Turkey: clientelism, self-censorship and instrumentalization of reporting. Protestors’ discontent was evident when they showed up in front of NTV headquarters and chanted “sell-out media.” In the absence of journalistic coverage and ubiquitous government propaganda, protestors and citizens alike (mostly young and urban) resorted to Twitter as a communication tool, news source and form of protest. Alternative news sites and portals also gained traction. Meanwhile, some protestors started online outlets to live-stream the events, provide commentary and/or disseminate information. Among them is Capul TV, launched by a handful of Gezi Park activists with the motto “The Medium of the Resistance.” (Capul is the Turkish word for "looter" which the Prime Minister used to describe the protestors). From its makeshift studios in the Gezi Park encampment, Capul TV broadcast live interviews with protestors, intellectuals and artists, and provided an insider’s view of the park. Soon activists began to upload videos on YouTube to document the street protests, clashes with the police, and neighborhood forums and to fill the void left by traditional news media.

Today, Capul TV serves as an independent, online television channel, and is voluntarily sponsorship-free. Self-defined as a group engaged in the struggle for “people’s right to communication,” it functions as a news portal, platform for citizen journalism and collection of Gezi-related films. It also features live-streamed programs on a nightly basis covering politics, arts and culture. The video clip I chose is a trailer for a documentary titled “The Rhythm of Gezi” on the intersection of music and politics, and is one of countless videos available on Capul TV’s website-- a new discursive space opened up by the Gezi Park protests.


Thank you for this piece! My question is related to the censoring and internet regulations in Turkey. Especially after the implementation of the new internet law, what will happen to these alternative media which are mostly broadcasting online? Do you think Capul TV and the other online streamings/web sites/blogs would manage to continue reaching people under the new circumstances? Thank you.

Thanks for your question, Beste. Yes, one definitely needs to take into consideration the restrictive Internet regulation in Turkey. Even before the passing of the new Internet law, the legal framework presented serious challenges to online speech (as in blocking of thousands of websites, prosecution of online users, etc). During the Gezi protests, the Prime Minister notoriously called Twitter a "menace" and dozens of Twitter users were arrested on charges of threatening public safety and order. As these surveillance/censorship practices (before and during Gezi) show, the emancipatory potential of social media is limited or may be limited in myriad ways. So although I celebrate the opening up of new discursive spaces such as Capul TV and others, I am also wary about the governmental, judicial limitations. Now the new Internet law, which was passed a few weeks ago, is likely to muzzle online users further: the authorities now have the ability to block web pages or websites without court order and they can require service providers to store user data for up to 2 years and share it with the government. Needless to say, the new law creates a very suppressive online environment and increases the government’s surveillance capacity of online users—from citizens to journalists. All this begs the question: what about the implications of the new law on outlets such as Capul TV? At the moment, the government seems to be more interested in websites or social media users who publish the wiretapped conversations that point out to a massive corruption scandal or any other content that is specifically critical of its policies. Capul TV seems to be under the radar for now, but because it is all about anti-government resistance, it may very well be subject to legal hounding by the authorities any time.

Thanks for your answer to my previous question Bilge. I have another one: You mentioned mainstream media's silence on Gezi Protests because of their political economic ties with the government. But is this something specific to the AKP government? Weren't media companies always vulnerable to government pressure? What's different now with the AKP?

Yes, this is an important point. Media companies in Turkey have always had intricate political, economic ties with the governments. These “unholy alliances” if you like became the norm in the 80s and 90s when media ownership went through a transformation. Business tycoons bought media companies to use them as bargaining tools with the government for contracts, subsidies, and privatization deals, which in turn made them extremely vulnerable to pressures from the government and diminished their editorial independence. Although government manipulation did not start with the AKP, it has definitely worsened. It is primarily because the sticks and carrots are much bigger now. In 2009, the largest media conglomerate was slapped with a massive tax fine because of its critical reporting, and this incident served to silence other media companies as well. On the other hand, the AKP cultivated its loyal media bloc by distributing lucrative contracts or facilitating the sales of troubled newspapers, television channels to its supporters.

Thanks for the text and your comments Bilge. What do you think of the recently released recordings between the Prime Minister and various media moguls? The PM literally dictates how the media needs to be run and demands utmost control over various news. These tapes aren't even refuted anymore, and they demonstrate a clear violation of all media ethics.

Yes, the leaked wiretaps between the PM and media moguls (as well other tapes involving newspaper editors) have shown what we knew for too long: that there is intense government pressure and direct manipulation on news media. I noted in my earlier comment that the AKP used carrots and sticks to re-structure media ownership. Beyond these structural manipulations, they have also been directly engaged in content manipulation-- as the leaked wiretaps show. Last summer, I was in Turkey and interviewed journalists about press freedoms under Erdogan. I listened to several stories about news outlets (print and broadcast) getting phone calls from the PM's office or from ministers who complained about coverage, etc. Now its is out in the open , that is the extent of micro-management of news media by the AKP.

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