How to Muzzle And Manipulate the Media — Mahir Zeynalov on Turkey
I met Turkish journalist Mahir Zeynalov who currently lives in the United States. We were on a panel together organized by Society of Professional Journalists (DC Chapter). I spoke to Mahir after the event and here is a short video and its transcript.
Raza: How does Erdogan control and manipulate media internally?
Mahir: Well, he is using variety of ways. One of them, which I think is very smart, is create a pool of funds where the pro government business people would chip in money and so they would have enough resources to purchase critical media outlet…for example, let’s say there is a trade deal or state tender (i.e.) you have to build a bridge and it costs 5 billion right and [then] there are some rivals who want to get that tender. So, what Erdogan is telling them and we know this because there were some tape recordings exposed on the social media-what Erdogan tells them is in order to get lucrative deal, you have to buy this media outlet at let’s say 200m. That pro government businessman buys it and transforms it into government office. That’s how the mechanism works.
And it took to like 12 to 5 years, it escalated in last 5 years, over a decade perhaps less than a decade. That’s how Erdogan tried to co-opt media into submission and how they (media outlets), one by one, were confiscated through “legal” ways.
Raza: Very interesting! So second question I wanted to know was your story that how did you land in the United States?
Mahir: Right, well umm actually there is a court decision in Turkey that actually bans me from stepping my step in the Turkish soil.
I know that’s weird. So, Turkish government wanted to imprison me for very long time and as it could be bad for image of Turkish government so the president Erdogan, as I learnt from my resources, was advised against my jail time for it would tarnish the repute of his government…
So, I was called into the police questioning five days before I was expelled from the country, questions asked were what kind of things I wrote and why I wrote things that I did and a month before that incident, president Erdogan pressed charges against me for six year sentence for violating two articles of constitution-insulting the president, spreading chaos among the public and hatred…these kind of charges.
And five days latter, the police stormed my house, there was arrest warrant against me. They wanted to expel me so I went into hiding. I decided to appeal against the decision while I was in the hiding but there was enormous pressure to garner international support for my case and we were kindda successful. So me and my wife went to the airport. We were surrounded by police, we are carrying tickets so we can fly over and they let us go. And we left the country, came here and started media organization here that focuses on single subject studies and these were times to highlight more minority rights, press freedom issues not just in US but also around the world and kind of promote civil liberties and political rights for people.
Raza: thank you!