In just under a month from now, voters across Turkey will vote in a referendum on the future shape of their government, and, by extension, how much power they are prepared to invest in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

So why is so much of the breaking campaign news coming out of Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands?

Because the Turkish diaspora in Europe could prove crucial to the outcome. There are as many as three million Turkish votes in European countries up for grabs.

Erdogan is looking for a “Yes” vote, which would lead to constitutional changes that would turn Turkey into a presidential system with Erdogan and the AK party he leads at the top. And when some European governments denied the AK party permission to hold campaign rallies on their territory, the diplomatic fallout was swift.

The subsequent war of words has been covered heavily by Turkish media outlets that back Erdogan – and these days, that means almost the entire domestic television news industry.

Journalists there understand that coming out in favour of a “No” vote is one thing, but to be too critical of the president leading the ‘Yes’ forces could cost them their jobs, and land them alongside Kurds, Gulenists and others Erdogan calls enemies of the state.

Our lead story this week is about Turkey’s political future, but our starting points are in the European countries where the campaign, and the coverage, are making news.

It began on the streets of Rotterdam, where Turkish political demonstrations took place.

Expats were protesting the Dutch government’s refusal to allow the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to speak at a rally in the city when a protester was attacked by a police dog.

The images made their way across Turkish news feeds. President Erdogan responded by calling the Dutch “Nazi remnants” and warned the government there not to interfere in Turkey’s referendum: “You will pay the price. You will pay the price,” he said.

The president effectively wrote the next day’s headline for the Turkish news editors to cut and paste. And they seemed happy to do so, across the board.

Erdogan’s remarks are nothing new, says Ceren Sozeri, associate professor at Galatasaray University. “The papers are used to reporting stories based on Erdogan’s statements. They report in the same way based on the same source. This goes beyond media control. It shows that the newspapers have turned into a tool of propaganda.”

Ravza Kavakci, an AKP member of parliament, countered Sozeri’s claims.

“Sometimes our media behave like the supporters of a football team. We cannot change our habits. So the fact that a number of media outlets used similar headlines does not mean they were written by one person, but that the case was perceived similarly by different segments of society. That proves there is diversity,” she said.

The series of bilateral incidents over the AK party’s planned rallies got its start in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s government refused to allow gatherings in three cities earlier this month.

But Ankara and Berlin had another issue brewing before that, with the February 17 arrest by Turkish authorities of Deniz Yucel, a dual-national based in Turkey as a correspondent for the German paper Die Welt.

The charges relate to leaked emails his paper published from the account of President Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Yucel is accused of “spreading propaganda” and alleged links to the Kurdish PKK, a movement the Turkish government labels a “terror” group.

Erdogan, despite the office he holds, is seldom shy to comment on cases that are before the courts. He has called Yucel a “terrorist”.

So is Erdogan scoring political points by heightening tensions?

“We can safely say this was a political manoeuvre. Erdogan and Merkel had met a short while before Deniz Yucel was arrested. And Merkel, for the first time in a while, criticised Turkey over freedom of the press,” says Diken journalist Mehves Evin.

There are other media issues that stand between Germany and Turkey, including the case of Can Dundar, the former editor of Cumhuriyet.

Dundar and a colleague were convicted last year of espionage after they published classified documents that they said revealed covert Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels. They fled to Germany. The Merkel government did not just welcome them, its justice minister recently hosted Dundar at a reception.

Dundar has also launched a Turkish news website from Germany, which the government in Ankara has blocked from being seen in Turkey. The Turkish government was already among the world’s leading jailers of journalists, well before the crackdown that followed the failed coup last July.

According to Ceren Sozeri, last year’s report by Reporters without Borders and Bianet showed seven of the 10 most popular media outlets in Turkey, including television channels, radio stations and websites were under government control.

“More than 150 journalists are in prison. What is striking about the pro-government media criticising freedom of speech in Europe is that there is no mention of the oppression in domestic Turkish politics.”

Dogan is one of Turkey’s largest media companies. Last month, when one of its newscasters on Kanal D, Irfan Degirmenci, tweeted that he would be voting ‘No’ in the referendum, Dogan fired him.

Dogan’s case is hardly unique. The editor-in-chief of Turkey’s most circulated newspaper, Hurriyet, was fired two weeks ago after publishing a story on unrest within the Turkish military.

Contributors:

Meryem Ilayda Atlas, journalist, Sabah Newspaper
Ceren Sozeri, associate professor, Galatasaray University
Ravza Kavakci, AKP Member of Parliament
Mehves Evin, journalist, Diken

Source: Al Jazeera