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Author: Rachel Harris
Date: Wntr 2021
From: Harvard International Review(Vol. 42, Issue 1)
Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,717 words
Lexile Measure: 1640L

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On September 18, 2020, the front page of Dimokratia, a right-wing Greek newspaper, featured the headline "Siktir Git Mr. Erdogan," meaning "F*** Off Mr. Erdogan." In response, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey since 2014, filed an aggressively worded criminal complaint against the four people involved. Erdogan's criminal report and the scramble by Greece and Europe to respond reveals the degree to which Erdogan's desire for total control over his public image has expanded beyond Turkey's borders, impacting the way he engages diplomatically with both allies and rivals. This diplomatic tension, unfolding against the backdrop of Turkey's resumption of talks with Greece over energy control in the Eastern Mediterranean, highlights Erdogan's use of journalists as leverage in his broader fight for regional hegemony. By weaponizing his abuse of the free press towards his international agenda, Erdogan is signalling his increasing willingness to push the boundaries of international norms in his overall campaign for more geopolitical power.

Erdogan and the Press

Erdogan has had a rocky history with the press: the Committee to Protect Journalists reports mat 47 journalists are currently jailed in Turkey, and Erdogan has sued over 2,000 people for insulting him since taking office. The legal consequences for insulting the president as well as restrictions on vaguely defined "terror propaganda" and content that allegedly threatens national security contribute to an atmosphere of media self-censorship in Turkey. Even for journalists who don't face legal consequences, the professional pressure to refrain from censuring the Erdogan government is strong, aided by government policies after the 2016 coup that forced over a hundred media outlets to shut down and required others to be transferred or sold at below-market rates to businessmen who are friends or allies of Erdogan. This functional cartel of business interests, which are intimately linked to Erdogan, transforms nearly all Turkish journalism, even privately-owned news outlets, into de facto state media. Because of this tight control, Turkey ranks 154th out of 180 on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, lower than Russia and Pakistan.

An International Incident

While Erdogan's relationship with the press in Turkey has consistently worsened since he took office, international outlets have, naturally, remained largely outside of his sphere of influence. The recent Dimokratia dispute, however, has appeared to change this norm: although the offensive headline was published in Greece, Erdogan has attempted to use the same aggressive legal threats that granted him full control of the Turkish press to silence international journalists as well. Rather than address his concerns with Dimokratia to the newspaper directly or to relevant Greek officials, Erdogan has attempted...

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