Turkish media associations react to the words of President Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec 17 targeting a Turkish journalist, Fatih Portakal working for the Fox TV-Turkey as the main news bulletin anchor. Mocking with his surname, Portakal, which means the orange fruit in Turkish, Erdoğan said the following in a public speck in Konya: “Someone comes up whether it’s orange or tangerine, or any other citrus fruit, and calling people to take the streets. Know your limits! If you don’t know your limits, this people [might] give you a rabbit punch.”
Erdoğan had accused Portakal earlier on Dec 15 of “immorally” provoking people to take the streets against his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, because of his comments on the “Yellow West” protest in France in his presentation on Dec 10. Portakal had said that “[If] it’s time for peaceful protest, let’s see [whether] we can protest price hikes, “[say] the natural gas price hikes. Can we do that? How many people [do you think] can take the streets because of fear and concerns?” The next day a campaign was launched in the pro-government media led by Erkan Tan, a columnist for the Takvim newspaper who said that “the heads of those who rioted against the state, shot bullet to the police and vandalized the public property”, expressions used by government circles to define the 2013 Gezi wave of protests, “should be cut off”.
In answer to the campaign Portakal had said that if “a halfwit” should give any harm to him and his family those who put him on target in media should be held responsible. Following the Dec 15 statement of Erdoğan, Portakal had said on his Twitter account that he wished Erdoğan had something “the one who wanted his head off” and would not call him “immoral”. After the Dec 17 words of Erdoğan, Portakal said he would not respond.
In the meantime, a prosecutor has started a probe against Portakal with claims of “insulting the president”.
Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD), Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) and Turkey branch of the Journalists Without Borders (RSF) protested the case and asked Erdoğan not to “target journalists” and not to “divide and polarize citizens”. “Please don’t throw the country into fire for an election” said the TGS statement, implying the March 31, 2019 local elections which has been given utmost importance by President Erdoğan to further consolidate his power.
There were limited comments on the debate in support of Portakal in Turkish media on Dec 18, mostly on independent media outlets which represent only less than 20 percent of Turkish media and do not belong to industry and finance groups close to the government. The RSF has recently said that Turkey is in the third place in the world regarding prosecution and imprisonment of journalists after China and Egypt. Last week when prosecutors opened investigations against two staunchly secular and Kemalist columnists of the independent daily Sözcü, namely Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru with accusations of helping the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen who is indicted to be the 2016 military coup attempt, there was an intense public debate about it as well.
There is an overall decline in newspaper circulations, TV ratings and news page clicks of Turkish media as the main stream loses its pluralistic and diverse fabric with growing areas of unannounced taboos.