🇹🇷 July 15: The day Turkey's media narrative changed | The Listening Post (Feature)

Sometimes a date on the calendar becomes synonymous with an event, a seminal moment for a new media narrative. September 11, 2001, is the most obvious.

But for Turks, it's July 15, 2016, the day when a botched coup attempt by a movement led by a reclusive Islamic leader based in the US, Fethullah Gulen - left hundreds dead and thousands injured.

In the early 2000s, Gulen's followers were allies of President Erdogan's AK Party. By 2013, they fell out politically and Erdogan labelled the movement a parallel state, a shadowy threat to democracy. After July 15, 2016, the government rebranded Gulen and his followers as "terrorists".

Turkey's media - increasingly intimidated by a government that has arrested hundreds of critical journalists - have played a vital role in framing July 15, 2016, as an ongoing explanation for the challenges facing the country, and as a way of crushing dissent.

"The media narrative has really played an important role for the AKP government and for President Erdogan to disseminate a particular version of the events," says Bilge Yesil, assistant professor, City University of New York.

From the soldiers and civilians killed and injured, to the bullet-scarred walls of government buildings; from accusations, confessions, prosecutions and recriminations - a new national narrative has emerged in which Turkey is beset by an enemy within: the Gulen movement, also referred to as Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

"Journalists who want to defend the state also want to keep the 15th of July high on the agenda," explains columnist Nihal Bengisu Karaca. "If you consider the character, the texture, the intricate structure and the sophistication of the organisation that we fought against on the 15th of July, you will better understand why that day will not be forgotten."

While the coup attempt was thwarted, their supporters are still being outed all the time - not only in the courts but in trials by media.

"So when a new decree-law is announced and people raise their concerns about the implications of that decree-law, usually the first response from a pro-government pundit is 'Are you member of the FETO?'" says Yesil.

"This becomes a vehicle for silencing oppositional voices and for discouraging people from asking questions, not only about FETO but in general about any government policy."

Persecuted by enemies abroad, infiltrated by enemies within - most of the Turkish media have closed ranks around a state-sanctioned narrative that explains all this in terms of the failed 2016 coup attempt. Meanwhile, hundreds of journalists have been silenced by arrest, their media outlets subject to closure or taken over by supporters of the government. The result is a media landscape where the only story is the July 15 story.

"The pro-government media is serving the same political narrative and the same political objectives as Erdogan and the AKP government. Obviously, their political agendas are very much aligned and because they serve to propagate the message from the party, and from the president we can see several similarities in terms of their narratives", says Yesil.

The stories that a nation tells become how that nation imagines itself collectively, how it understands its victimhood, its identity and its destiny. If for Turkey, July 15 was the day everything changed, narratives around the failed coup and FETO are a new national creation myth. One that, with so much of the Turkish media behind it, is rapidly becoming a new national reality.

Nihal Bengisu Karaca, columnist
Ali Saydam, columnist, Yeni Safak; honorary chairman, Bersay Communications Group
Ragip Duran, columnist Arti Gercek; Broadcasting Council, Arti TV
Bilge Yesil, assistant professor, City University of New York

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(Source: Al Jazeera English, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He3YuPNgQjk)
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