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Economic-Class-Based Discrimination in the Media: An Assesment over Tekel, Soma and Third Airport

Hâlâ Gazeteciyiz-Media Report-8 (November-2018)


Vahdet Mesut Ayan-A. Celil Kaya


This study investigates the ways in which economic-class-based discrimination has secured itself coverage in news reports during the AKP era. This report argues that discriminatory discourse, regarded to have considerably increased with AKP, cannot be evaluated to be independent of AKP’s class foundations and firstly discusses such foundation of AKP, sustaining its 16-year rule, in order to analyze the economic-class-based discriminatory discourse covered by the media.

The first part of this two-part study, within this scope, refers to the class dynamics behind AKP that claimed power in 2002. The hypothesis of the study is that AKP, which has rapidly put into practice neoliberal policies since the first day it claimed power, has a relationship with the Turkish bourgeoisie that is directly linked with the economic-class-based discriminatory discourse reflected by the media. The analysis of AKP’s class characteristics and its economic policies that ensued within this context form the historical/social context of the texts scrutinized within the scope of the report. When one takes into account the fact that media texts are not born into a void but, on the contrary, were products of a particular historical/social context, the significance of the first part becomes clear.

The second part, which is complementary to the former, is reserved for an analysis of exemplary incidents covered by dailies in Turkey. This part evaluates news reports by different dailies in Turkey and investigates the ways in which the 2009 TEKEL worker protests, the 2014 Soma disaster, the 2018 3rd Airport corporate murders, workers protesting unpaid fees, poor working and housing conditions were reported. Samples from Yeni Şafak, Türkiye, Sabah, Star, Milat, Akit, Yeni Birlik and Habertürk dailies, which are known to be pro-government, were selected for analysis.

— A total of 10 news stories and 5 opinion columns from the above-mentioned dailies were chosen and analyzed. News and opinion columns were selected by means of purposeful (monographic) sampling technique. Thus, the manner in which AKP policies are reproduced both in reporting processes and opinion columns in pro-gov dailies will be elucidated. News and opinion columns chosen date back to the periods when events mentioned above took place. This part, in which economic-class-based discrimination will be discussed by means of frequently employed discriminatory discourses, aims also to demonstrate that discriminatory language targeting not only different identities but also classes is established through the agency of the media.

The study thus hopes to lay bare the fact that the gap between the classes that widened as a result of AKP’s economic programs are closely related to discriminatory discourses in the media and these discourses reproduce inequality between classes.

1. AKP’s Class Basis

This part of the present report will attempt to elucidate AKP’s class basis and the economic policies it put into practice after coming to power in 2002. Thus, the first part will analyze AKP neither in terms of a “conservative democrat” (Akdoğan, 2003) as Yalçın Akdoğan did, nor in terms of center-periphery relationship as Bulaç did (Bulaç, 2009). The present study’s perspective regarding AKP differs basically from the two approaches above. The report seeks to explain AKP’s birth, ascension to power and the economic policies it implemented while in power by means of the relationship it builds with the Turkish bourgeoisie. From 2002 until today when this report was penned (November 2018) both the Turkish bourgeoisie in general and Islamist bourgeoisie in particular skyrocketed their finance capitals. A brief description of what AKP is or what it is not would be more useful before launching into an analysis of AKP government’s contributions to the development of bourgeoisie and the methods used therein.

Savran, who claims that AKP came to exist as a result of the rift within the Turkish bourgeoisie (Western-laic bourgeoisie and Islamist bourgeoisie) and tensions within that rift, lays emphasis on the fact that AKP symbolizes the outcome of a class struggle as well as a conflict within the dominant classes. According to Savran, AKP represents this dual project:

AKP is the representative of this dual project. It has, on one hand, adopted the program of deploying neoliberalism to the full extent so as to improve the interests of the Turkish capital in the world markets, deprive the working class by force of their rights and positions that they have obtained in the last fifty years; on the other hand, it is a party striving to boost the interests of a new bourgeoisie (Islamist bourgeoisie) to the detriment of the established interests of the Western-laic camp. In brief, AKP is on one hand a party of class struggle and, on the other, a party of a struggle within the dominant classes, that is, the civil war of the bourgeoisie (Savran, 2016: 38).

The approach we summarized above is important in demonstrating the relationship that AKP has established with the bourgeoisie as well as unveiling AKP’s favorite camp within the bourgeoisie. An approach akin to Savran’s is available in Sönmez, who emphasizes the fact that AKP is an actor that is at peace with the policies of neoliberalism, globalism and the New World Order (2009:180). Uzgel, who lays stress on the relationships that AKP had established with the Istanbulite bourgeoisie before it came into being, asserts that the party had gained the consent of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) (Uzgel, 2009:27). Uzgel claims that what lies behind the support that AKP received from both the Turkish capital-owning class in general and the international actors was the neoliberal policies that it promised to implement:

For the first time in the history of Turkey, a political actor received the domestic support not only of the Anatolian capital and its representatives, Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (MÜSİAD) and Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), and religious communities like Gülen and Naqshbandis as well as that of TUSİAD and other liberals, and managed to represent their interests within a political movement and, at the same time, it received the support of the USA and the EU as well as the Arab countries that had reaped the wealth of the soaring oil prices up until 2008 and some Middle-Eastern countries (Uzgel, 2009:38).

Uzgel’s quote shows how contradictory AKP was with its discourses of victimization and “a politics in favor of the people” that it employed while marching toward power. AKP impoverished the Turkish society in general with the neoliberal policies it introduced while at the same time its economic policies open the floodgates for the flourishing of the bourgeoisie to the full. The post-2002 period, defined as “neoliberal deepening” by Mine Eder, comprises a time in which public assets were intensively privatized, the land became commoditized in the rural and urban areas and foreign capital increased, yet still foreign trade deficit increased tremendously and Turkey articulated into the global commodity chains (Eder, 2015:48).

During the AKP rule, rapid privatization of especially public assets contributed to the capital of the Turkish bourgeoisie and the capital of Islamist bourgeoisie within it, while it also led to the impoverishment of the people. Underlining two aspects of privatization policies in that period, Ertuğrul (2009: 531) states the first aspect of privatization policy was that AKP’s liberal practices were oriented towards the acceptance of the party at home and abroad, while the second aspect of the privatization policy was to accumulate partisan capital wealth for itself through privatizations.

The administrative interference with the economy especially by means of legislation became a distinctive feature of the government’s economy policy in this period. 30 amendments involving 113 articles made in the Public Tender Law between 2002 and 2013 is a concrete indication of the policy adopted (Buğra ve Savaşkan, 2015). In the process of handing over of public assets to the private sector by means of privatization, AKP also implemented the following policies: 1) Full-scale tenders initiated at the national level. 2) Tenders issued at the level of local governments (municipal services, infrastructure investments, TOKI- Housing Development Administration, etc.). 3) Loans provided by public banks. 4) Public facilities handed over to the management of private sector (Tanyılmaz, 2014:160). “The Report on the 16-Year AKP Rule” prepared by the Municipal and Local Authority Trade Union (Tüm Bel-Sen) is significant in terms of summarizing the AKP policies. The part of the report that dwells on the government’s economic policies is especially striking. The report encapsulates the economic policies of AKP’s 16-year rule and their consequences as follows:

In the AKP period an intensive privatization was launched. The total sum of privatizations realized between the years 1986 and 2003 was 8.2 billion dollars, while that of those from 2003 until today reached 60.8 billion dollars. (This sum does not include the privatized sugar factories.) Following the privatizations tens of facilities were closed down with thousands of people losing their jobs. Subcontracting increased in the privatized establishments. Attempts are made to popularize fixed term contracts, on-call working, part-time working, which are all considered to be exceptional working and present as them standard work type. Subcontracting has gathered momentum especially in the last 16 years. With subcontracting, deadly work accidents have reached critical levels and nonunionization increased. In addition to subcontracting, temporary and precarious employment types have been popularized in the public sector under different names and titles. Contract employees and temporary employees (4-C), which are among exceptional work types, have become the norm and secured employment is being destroyed. While the number of civil workers is decreasing, the number of contract workers is on the rise. The number of permanent staff in the public administrations in the general budget was 2.431.574 in March 2016, the figure decreased to 2.352.047 in December 2017. The number of workers dropped by 79.000 within one year, while the staff on contract increased by 92.000. The number of contract employees, which was 39.557 in March 2016, soared to 131.981 in December 2017 (tumbelsen.org.tr, 2018).

The report also dwells on such issues as subcontracting practices that became commonplace in the AKP rule, the passing of the “retirement in the grave” bill which raised the retirement age to 65, the founding of “Private Employment Offices”, legalization of imposition of mediation and thousands of workers who were made redundant owing to privatizations. All these practices also exacerbated income inequality by 2016. According to the figures of 2016 by Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), the share of the highest income group of 20% from the total revenues increased to 47.2%; however, the share of the lowest income group of 20% was 6.2% (cumhuriyet.com.tr, 2017). Neoliberal policies that AKP put into practice in economy, agriculture, education and every field of social life led to the escalation of unemployment. Birdal, dwelling on the role of agricultural policies and privatizations in the increase of unemployment (2017), states that the rate of unemployment in 2002 when AKP came to power was 7.96%, which increased to 10.65% on average between 2003 and 2017. The table below clearly shows rate of unemployment, which had an upward movement with the AKP rule:


Table 1: Unemployment Rate Between 1989-2016[1]

Table 1 is outstanding with regards to showing the fact that the rate of unemployment rate, which had dropped to the lowest levels in 2000, peaked between 2009 and 2010 when AKP was in power. One should also observe the sustained upward trend in unemployment as of 2012. We believe that what lies behind this upward trend is the AKP policies, the details of which were provided in the report above. These figures indicate that the government policies empowered the bourgeoisie, on one hand, and expanded poverty all over the Turkish society, on the other.

Another evidence that AKP and its policies are against the working classes is the strikes that were postponed as long as it was in power. According to “Labor Report in the AKP Rule” (“AKP Döneminde Emek Raporu”)[2] prepared by Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), 15 decrees were issued to postpone strikes between 2002 and 2018. 7 of these decrees were issued in the State of Emergency (SoE) period (2016-2018). Article 63 of Law on Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining Agreements No. 6356 previously could postpone strikes on the grounds of “national security and public health”; with the decree-law No. 678 on November 22, 2016, the government introduced a new justification into the same law, thus it has obtained the opportunity to postpone strikes that are deemed potentially “disruptive to public transport in metropolitan municipalities or to banking services or financial stability” (AKP Döneminde Emek Raporu, 2018:8). This article offered the government over-permissiveness in banning strikes. The conveniences that the SoE process granted the government too made it easier to dispossess the working classes of their most fundamental rights. AKP leader Erdoğan explained the function of the SoE in restraining strikes and labor movements in general as follows:

The previous SoE periods were quite unlike the periods in which we practiced SoE decisions. Then you could see strikes in factories all the time. I would like to ask all the industrialists a question. Have you ever seen a strike during the SoE period, including the 7th? We have not allowed the industry to come to a halt in this process. Otherwise the workbench would collapse. We will not let you destroy this workbench. Mr. Kemal, just to let you know, we will not leave Cudi, Qandil or Tendurek (evrensel.net, 2018).

The above statement by Erdoğan demonstrates the attitude of AKP governments and its leaders towards the working classes. The SoE, which was declared in July 2016, suppressed almost the whole Turkish society and the working classes got their share from it. In this sense, the SOE process not only enabled AKP to remain in power but also played an important role in downgrading the working classes.

The workplace murders and the increase in these murders between 2003 and 2016 during which AKP was in power is one of the consequences of AKP’s class politics too. Within a period of 13 years the number of workplace murders reached 16.984 in total. The table below shows the numbers and rates of workplace murders in this period:

                          İşçi Sayısı                 Ölüm Bildirimi       Ölüm Rate Yüzbinde)
2003 5.615.000 811 14,4
2004 6.181.000 843 13,6
2005 6.918.605 1.096 15,8
2006 7.818.000 1.601 20,5
2007 8.505.000 1.044 12,3
2008 8.802.000 866 9,8
2009 9.030.000 1.171 13,0
2010 10.030.000 1.454 14,5
2011 11.081.000 1.710 15,4
2012 11.940.000 745 6,2
2013 12.484.000 1.360 10,9
2014 13.240.000 1.626 12,3
2015 13.999.000 1.252 8,9
2016 14.059.000 1.405 10,0
Ortal 1.132 12,2
Topl 16.984

Table 2: The Number and Rates of Workplace Murders Between 2003 and 2016[3]

The table above shows how workplace murders fluctuated erratically in the 13-year period, which suggests that the government did not take any measures to stop these killings. With the AKP rule, the proliferation of precarious employment, subcontracting and contract labor became the major causes of these killings. All these lay bare the attitude of the government towards the workers’ living conditions and even their lives.

Taken all together we may conclude that the Turkish bourgeoisie snatched excessive amounts of opportunities in the AKP rule and the bourgeoisie used them for their class interests. In this period, companies grew gigantically and rapidly, becoming holdings thanks to energy distribution tenders and privatizations in the fields of education and health (Buğra ve Savaşkan, 2015). As stated above, the transformation in the AKP period was not limited to economy and politics only, bringing about critical changes/transformations in almost every sphere of life—education, health-social security, transportation, environment, foreign policy, everyday life, etc. While AKP speedily activated the processes of privatization in education and healthcare thanks to the neoliberal policies it adopted, every component of society (from urban space to politics of the body) has been affected by the these policies implemented (Tuğal, 2011). Obviously, these practices have been to the benefit of the bourgeoisie rather than to that of the public. Öztürk, who claims that AKP represents the interests of the Turkish bourgeoisie in general and Islamist bourgeoisie in particular, states that the Islamist capital that flourished during the AKP rule has now become a major component of the government in Turkey:

AKP represents the class interests of conservative bourgeoisie, especially those of the gigantic class capital group in it. It may be put forward that conservative finance capital has settled itself with its winning edge of political power as a subject that has to be taken into consideration in the power structure in Turkey (Öztürk, 2014:207).

The views above are highly important in the sense that they reinforce the major assumptions in the present report. The direct connection of the political Islam (virtually in power for 16 years and represented by AKP) with Islamist capital and the Turkish bourgeoisie is also one of the major aspects that determines its class politics. While privatizations began to gain momentum in education, healthcare, infrastructure and transportation with the neoliberal policies put into practice speedily after 2002, the Turkish society was shoved into precarious employment and impoverishment. In this sense, it may be claimed that while AKP represented the interests of the bourgeoisie in its class politics, the economic policies it implemented have been to the detriment of the working classes and the Turkish society in general.

The transformation that has taken place since 2002 in the media in fact corresponds to the transformation in other facets of society. Not only has the ownership and control structure of the media changed from head to toe in favor of AKP in this period, the media has also ideologically changed virtually into the government’s propaganda apparatus.  The media policies of AKP during its 16-year rule wiped out the pre-2002 mainstream media actors and replaced them with pro-gov actors. The process which began in the early 2000s with the elimination of the Uzan Group from the media sector, intensified in 2013 when the media outlets owned by the Çukurova Group were seized by the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). The pro-AKP transformation in the Turkish media was substantially completed with the handover of the Doğan Media Holding to the pro-AKP Demirören Group in 2018. The mainstream media shared by the Çalık Group, Zirve Group, Hasan Yaşildağ’s Türk Medya, Ciner Group and Demirören Group drew attention with their pro-gov news contents. The government pressure on the media increased especially in the SoE period declared in July 2016 and the steps taken by AKP to transform the media gained momentum. Journalists were arrested simply because they did their jobs and even imprisoned after receiving sentences. This led to a situation in which the principles of journalism were consistently violated by the pro-gov journalists. Thus, AKP has both changed the ownership and control structure of the media to its advantage since 2002 and turned the media and journalism into something questionable in the public view.

The developments mentioned above affected also media contents. The class-politics practiced by AKP finds its place also in the media contents. It is a fact that workplace murders, strikes and demonstrations that took place between 2002 and 2018 were either ignored or subjected to an openly ideological distortion not only in the pro-AKP media but also in the mainstream media. When the fact that the media is right at the heart of politics and economic dynamics[4] is taken into consideration, it becomes obvious that media studies have to sett off from a holistic perspective.

The class interests of the Turkish media, which became industrialized especially from the 1980s onwards, necessitated turning a blind eye to workplace murders, strikes and demonstrations and their antagonization when they could not be ignored. When the interests of the ruling AKP and those of the industrialized media overlapped, this situation got much more fatal. The next part of the study will be devoted to the analysis of this situation. Thus, the facts we tried to establish in the first part will be complemented by the second part. Considering the fact that ideological tendencies in media output do not exist in a vacuum, but on the contrary they are all related to material conditions, the significance of the second part will be more evident.

  1. The Representation of Class-Based Discrimination in the Media

We previously mentioned the fact that AKP, which came into power in 2002, set out to implement neoliberal policies rapidly. In this period, important steps were taken especially in the process of privatization. The second part of the study will begin with the media coverage of TEKEL workers, who reacted to privatization practices with one of the biggest protests in the history of Turkey. The analysis of the representation of protests, beginning in December 2009, will also give a clear idea about the media of the period.

2.1. The Representations of the TEKEL Protests in the Media

The TEKEL protests commenced when the Directorate of Privatization Administration issued a tender in 2008 to sell TEKEL’s cigarette and tobacco factories and British American Tabocco (BAT), which got the tender for 1 billion 720 million dollars, became the new owner of TEKEL’s factories in Adana, Ballıca, Malatya, Samsun and Tokat. This sale process turned into massive worker protests when BAT announced that workers in these factories would be laid off (tr.vikipedia.org, 2018). The protests, which the Turkish media ignored at first, began to be covered in the media albeit partly when the protests became massive with the participation and support of different walks of life.

The protests were covered in the February 15, 2008 issue of pro-gov daily Yeni Şafak with the title “TEKEL Workers’ Protests”. The news article covered protests as follows:

In Adana the police interfered against workers that attempted to block the D-400 motorway to protest the privatization of TEKEL. With the deadline for bids for TEKEL’s privatization ending on February 18, 2008, the workers gathered in front of Adana Tekel Cigarette Factory and protested by “not leaving the factory”, carrying banners and placards, shouting slogans against the government and dancing to the accompaniment of drums and zurna (Yeni Şafak, 15 Şubat 2008).

Yeni Şafak, underlining the anti-government slogans in protests, implies that the workers are there not because of their personal benefits which they are about lose but their dissent against the government. The news article also describes the protests sarcastically by referring to “dancing to the accompaniment of drums and zurna.” The daily’s attitude is significant since it takes lightly of TEKEL workers’ protests and shows how faithfully it supports AKP’s privatization policies. The fact that workers who are to become unemployed by depriving them of their right to work are presented as purely anti-AKP protestors is another point to consider. Thus, the news story produces discursively a certain social division by juxtaposing TEKEL workers and the “reformist” government.

An opinion column appeared on February 9, 2010 in the same daily penned by İbrahim Kahveci called “If TEKEL workers are Turkish how about UZEL workers?” It is a known fact that opinion columns cannot be in conflict with the editorial policy of the media outlet especially in pro-gov media. Kahveci’s article is highly significant in this sense because the views expressed in the column reflect both the daily’s political views and its attitude against the TEKEL protests. The quotation below demonstrates how close these views are to AKP’s privatization policies. While defending the privatization policies in his column, the author suggests that the distinction between the public and the private be abolished and privileges that are enjoyed by those working in the public sector be ended. It is also useful to note that an attitude based on the comparison of TEKEL-UZEL, which has a divisive effect on the workers movement, pervades the whole article:

These days everybody wants money insistently. Yet no one asks the question whence and in return for what they want money, they simply ask for it. One section of society, for example, says, “I work at the public sector worker, I will not renounce my rights.” After all working in the public sector is a unique privilege in our country. You are not overwhelmed by crises or the fear of the boss. Labor unions in this country have collected money, exploiting workers and established a system of quasi-feudal lordships. I have not seen any labor unions that have really grabbed the bull by the horns for the good of the workers. One comes across such labor unions that victimize their member workers for the sake of their own feudal system. Are there any labor unions that staged any protests or said a word for Uzel workers? On one hand we have the Uzel workers, who have not got paid for two years, and outrageous protests for TEKEL workers, who refuse to accept a salary, which is higher even than that of a university graduate, on the other hand. I repeat, from labor unions to the media coverage, these protests have nothing to do with economic motives; these protests cannot have anything to do with demanding rights. Why doesn’t anybody protest for workers who are not paid or fired in the private sector? Why do people instead start an uproar insistently for TEKEL workers and not for those in Uzel? There is something rather fishy in this matter (Kahveci, 2010).

Visual 1: Kahveci’s opinion column dated February 9, 2010

The long quote and the visual above are significant in the sense they show pro-gov dailies’ and journalists’ viewpoint of the TEKEL protests. As is seen in these protests, labor unions are blamed for the incidents and workers are claimed to have been duped by the system of “feudal lordships” of labor unions. The author attempts to make his assertion stronger by creating a division in society (university graduate-worker; UZEL-TEKEL, etc.). This is in fact a concrete version of AKP’s policy of “polarization” adopted since 2002.

On February 5, 2010, another pro-AKP daily, Turkey, covered the words of the AKP leader and the then PM Erdoğan directed at TEKEL workers with the headline “Do not fall into the trap.” In the news Erdoğan says, “Take no offense but, these protests, which continue also with your support, are not legitimate for one thing. They are illegitimate protests and, as I mentioned before, ideological and there are those of you who are being used by them.” Here the PM himself states that the protests are illegitimate because they are “ideological”. Thus, these protests are carried out by workers deceived by “ideology” or manipulated by “ideological labor unions”, rather than being launched for democratic rights. In addition to the discourse of being deceived, “irrationality” is another implication about the TEKEL protests.

It can be observed that Erdoğan’s statements show parallelisms with those of the Yeni Şafak columnist Kahveci. Considering that AKP had not yet fully managed to transform the media in the period of the TEKEL protests, one can see how the pro-gov dailies and journalists are far from following professional ethics in covering and interpreting the protests.

The TEKEL protests also reveal how the government and its supporters interpret worker demonstrations. The way AKP, which implemented rapidly policies of privatization and precarious employment as soon it came to power, and the pro-gov dailies, treated and covered the workers exercising their democratic rights when they lost their jobs or risked losing their jobs due to privatizations in terms of “occupation”, “deception”, “labor union feudal lordship”, “being duped”, etc. is a manifestation of class policies. These news items legitimize privatizations and have an exclusionist/incriminating discourse towards the labor movement that criticizes privatization policies and go on strike to protest those policies.

2.2. Representation of the Soma Massacre in the Media

Turkey suffered the biggest workplace and mining disaster on May 13, 2014 in its history. A fire broke out as a result of an explosion in the electrical equipment in the mine run by Soma Coal Mine Company. During the fire 301 out of 787 miners underground were killed.

Investigations after the disaster revealed that the mining company had neglected taking some of the measures so as to lower costs, the high production pressure on workers disrupted safe working conditions and though signs shadowing forth the disaster appeared they were hushed up. Considering the fact that the mine site where the disaster took place was handed over to Soma Coal Mine Company by Turkish Coal Enterprise (TKİ), which is a government entity, by means of licensing, it becomes obvious that TKI has not fulfilled the authority and responsibility of inspection and condoned the relentless working conditions in the mine. One of the major reasons for this condonation was the high amount of coal needed by TKI. The distribution of coal to low-income groups was part of the outreach program that AKP had been exercising for a long time and coal production had to be kept at high levels for the continuation of this program. The demand created by the government’s political choice led to a high pressure for production and hazardous working conditions in all the mines owned by TKI and run by subcontractors.

As the dimensions of the disaster became clear, workers, their families and general public started to voice their reactions against the government. The PM of that period Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was protested by workers and the local people. Other cabinet members too received similar reactions. The prime ministerial aide Yusuf Yerkel kicking a worker who was restrained on the ground by gendarmerie engaged the public interest for quite a long time. Yusuf Yerkel obtained a medical report showing that he had been assaulted while kicking the worker and an investigation was launched about the worker who was kicked.

2.2.1. Soma in the Mainstream Media

The year 2014 coincides with a period in which the AKP government consolidated its hegemony over the media through and through. Most of the mainstream media outlets began to adopt an editorial policy in line with the government policies. Therefore, the news about the mining disaster and the following incidents reflected an  attitude that overlaps with the government’s stance.

Immediately after the disaster, the pro-gov dailies produced news that focused on fate and included dramatic stories and vindicated the government rather on the causes of the disaster. The then Minister of Energy Taner Yıldız was the most frequently mentioned figure. For many days dailies and TV channels made news telling how devotedly he worked. While miners’ families, rescue teams and the whole country focused on recovering the workers, the daily Sabah focused on the fact that Taner Yıldız had worn the same shirt for two days, without even being able to see his family.

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Visual 2: The News about Taner Yıldız in the daily Sabah (Sabah, 19.05.2014)

A few days after the accident when the dimensions of the disaster became clear, the public began to discuss more the causes of the disaster, the possible negligences and the responsibility of the government in the incident. Especially when PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was protested by the miners’ families and other people in town during his visit to the disaster site, the pro-gov media began to make news that attempted to cover up the government’s responsibility and put all the blame on the mining company and even look for a complot or “foreign powers” behind the disaster.

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Visual 3: Some of the news articles that were made to cover up the government’s responsibility

The pro-gov press on one hand targeted the mining company, putting all the blame on it and searched for complots or foreign powers behind the catastrophe. This meant that the Soma mining catastrophe was plotted and carried out by dark forces aiming to weaken the government. In compliance with its usual anti-Semitic editorial line, the daily Akit claimed that Israel was involved in the disaster.

Visual 4: According to Akit the disaster was staged by Israel (Akit, 20.05.2014).

Another approach that the pro-gov media adopted in terms of the Soma disaster was linking the catastrophe to fate, which simply ignored negligences. Many pro-gov dailies referred to those killed in the disaster as “martyrs”, preferring to treat the issue in religious terms. This can be seen explicitly in on May 15, 2014 issue of the daily Milat, one of such press organs.

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Visual 5: The front page of the daily Milat on 15.05.2014.

Yusuf Yerkel, one of the aides of the PM of the period R. Tayyip Erdoğan, kicking a worker from Soma, who was forced to the ground by the gendarmerie, was one of the popular topics in those days. The public found this image outrageous and campaigns were launched demanding that Yerkel must be dismissed and judged. It turned out later that Yerkel received a medical report of assault upon his return to Ankara. It was observed that the pro-gov media made news saying that the injured party was Yusuf Yerkel rather than the worker. It was even claimed that the person in question was not a worker but a provocateur who had come to Soma to create trouble and designed this incident to wear down the government. Journalist Hasan Karakaya of the daily Akit supported Yusuf Yerkel in his opinion column on May 16, 2018, saying “Great Job, Yusuf “:

And if Yusuf, who is an extremely “peaceful” and extremely “nice” young man, allegedly “kicked” this provocateur, he did what he ought to! Great job! (Karakaya, 2014).

Such frequent news in the pro-gov media claimed that the victim who was kicked was not from Soma, that he came from Istanbul with the aim of provocation and attacked the PM’s convoy on purpose, etc. Later, however, it was confirmed that this person was from Soma and had been a miner for 10 years.

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Visual 6: The news article of the daily Star on 15.05.2014.

As stated above especially the pro-gov media produced news content that served to conceal the government’s accountability in the Soma disaster and criminalize the public reaction. The workers and local people who protested those responsible for the mining catastrophe were labeled provocateurs and targeted by these media outlets. Representation of the Soma disaster in the media is one of the facts that clearly establishes the attitude of the AKP government and the media supporting it.

2.3. The Airport Protests

In September 2014 workers started protests in Istanbul’s 3rd airport, whose construction commenced in June 2014 and which is claimed to be one of the biggest airports in the world. Protesting workplace murders, horrific working conditions and their unpaid salaries since the beginning of the construction, the workers started a demonstration in one part of the site on Friday, September 14. Soon the protests spread to the whole construction site. The workers submitted their demands on work safety, payment of their salaries, the hygiene of food and sanitation of their dormitories to the employers; however, these demands were not officially accepted. Upon this, the protests continued. When the protests gained momentum, law enforcement forces interfered upon the demand of the construction company. The protesting workers were pepper-gassed, their dormitories were raided and more than 500 workers were detained and 24 of them arrested (bianet.org, 2018).

2.3.1. Representation of the Airport Protests in the Media

The Third Airport Project was one of the construction initiatives that the AKP government regarded most highly. The negative impact that the protests could inflict on the image of AKP and the project worried the government and the pro-gov media. The media, which at first preferred to ignore the protests, did their best to criminalize the protests when the resistance increased. As in almost every social protest against the government, it was claimed that workers’ reactions were not sincere and they were nothing other than provocations designed by some dark powers. On September 16, 2018 the daily Turkey headlined the allegation that workers protests were a provocation plotted to overthrow the government.

Visual 7: The headline of the daily Turkey on 16.09.2018.

The news story above harbors a characteristic that reproduces the discourse of AKP government’s victimization. “Victimization”, which forms one of the basic discourses of the government ruling the country for the last 16 years, is an ideological prop frequently used in newspaper articles. As is visible in this visual, the worker protests are linked to the 2013 Gezi protests. Thus, “foreign powers” aiming to hamper Turkey’s progress are highlighted and the protests are explained in terms of some “master mind”. In addition, calling a democratic demonstration an “uprising” also reveals the government’s discourse existing in newspaper articles.

Mehtap Yılmaz, an opinion columnist in the daily Akit, wrote an article on September 17, 2018, in which she established a relationship between worker protests and German, British and Serbian agents, alleging that CHP, HDP, PKK and FETÖ (Gülen Movement) incited the protests and insulting the workers. The part of the article we quote below is a unique example that demonstrates the hostility towards workers in the pro-gov press:

There has to be some shit in this! Even if these dogs say they have been infested with lice you need to douche them with gas and exorcise the Satan inside them! Now that they are itching, struggling desperately and saying “please scratch me, please!” raging mad since they are infested with lice, one has to delouse them and clap them in jail! No, my field of expertise is delousing them with words! If I had the authority I would find and crush all the lice in their heads … I would gladly crush all these bedbugs that make them itchy but I do not have the authority … Well, what about the government? What is it for? Come on, do something! (Yılmaz, 2018).

The quote from Yılmaz’s article epitomizes the reactions of AKP’s and pro-AKP journalists’ reactions to workers who express their democratic demands. The article, which is penned with a threatening language, does not fail to call the workers protesting their inhuman working conditions “dogs.” We might say that this text exemplifies the coupling of discriminatory discourse and hate speech. The author calling the government to repress the worker protests is another issue worth discussing. Words used in the text such as “dogs”, “lice”, struggling desperately”, and “delousing” exposes the discriminatory discourse targeting workers protests adopted by both the author and the daily where she works.

Not only Mehtap Yılmaz but also other columnists who are in good terms with the government including the Habertürk columnist Fatih Altaylı wrote articles that claimed that there were dark forces behind the workers’ protests. Altaylı finds it “rather meaningful” that demands in the airport construction with a history of four years that have not been voiced up until then should be voiced now:

Honestly, I cannot find it logical that the workers, who have not objected to the conditions for 4 years and 3 months, should run riot against the working conditions just 5 weeks before the completion of the construction, when 98% of the project has been finished. They ought to have said “We have endured for 4 years, we might as well endure for 5 more weeks” as reasonable human beings; it is extremely absurd that they should take the risk of being bludgeoned, detained and fired for such a short period of time. Please do not tell me “it’s not bearable any more.” No one would take such trouble when there is so little time left to bear. It is not logical either that a horde of people including HDP MPs should be able to flood the construction site, which has been inaccessible for anybody for 4 years. Nor is the fact that labor unions, which have not said a word for 4 years and 3 months, should jump on the scene suddenly. Something fishy is going on in the construction site of the third airport. I hope everything is all right! (Altaylı, 2018).

As can be seen above, Fatih Altaylı attempts to show the visit of HDP MPs as an evidence of the dark side of the protests. This is a multifaceted act of discrimination. This attitude both renders questionable a legal political party’s visit to the workers and makes the workers’ protest suspicious by means of the solidarity of this party. Thus it kills two birds with one stone; both the workers and HDP, which has already been targeted, are criminalized. Also the author’s such words as “the site … which has been inaccessible for anybody for 4 years” and “flooded” normalizes the impression that the construction site ought to be a secret and safe zone. In this way, entering the site to act in solidarity with the workers itself is rendered a questionable act sheltering a conspiracy.

On September 17, 2018, the daily Yeni Birlik, which also featured among its columnists İlnur Çevik, one of President’s principal consultants, headlined the claim that workers’ protests were used as a sabotage by European countries which felt threatened by the third airport. On the same day İlnur Çevik wrote in his column that the airport was sabotaged and the support of the protests by HDP MPs was a proof of this sabotage.

In every big project there may occur failures, workers may suffer due to negative attitudes of some subcontractors but the recent news of incidents that broke out in the 3rd Airport project suggests that some foul powers are trying to create havoc … Why haven’t workers complained about anything at all until now in this gigantic project that has been going on for some years? And why did they suddenly become aware of the problems they are suffering from, just before a few days before the opening of the airport? Why this timing? You see some 400 extreme leftist militants pop up amongst the workers and incite them with fake claims … They are accompanied by two HDP MPs, who visit workers in their dormitories and encourage them to protest (Çevik, 2018).

Visual 8: The headline of the daily Yeni Birlik dated 17.09.2018.

The reaction against the worker protests in the 3rd Airport and the way the protests are covered is an overt indication of the government’s attitude towards the working class and the laborers. Worker protests are generally associated in the news with such allegations as “sabotage,” “plot”, “foreign powers”, “master mind”, “game”, “plan”, etc., which are not supported by concrete evidence. This also shows how contradictory the discriminatory discourse employed by the pro-gov media is with democracy and democracy culture. And opinion columns, which sometime verge on the insult, are complementary to news stories. Considering the fact that the mainstream media almost completely was under the control of the government by 2018, it may be asserted that news coverage with an affirmative stance towards workers’ demands and protests are rather few. It would not be wrong to say that the majority of the media adopted a hostile and discriminatory attitude against the workers except the critical news articles in such dailies and Internet sites as Evrensel, BirGün, Yeni Yaşam and SoL. Discriminatory discourse against the working classes and their protests has become an obvious phenomenon in almost all pro-gov media outlets.


As we discussed in the first part with relevant figures, AKP is a party that represents the interests of the capitalist class. The party’s legislative preferences as well as practices have proved this identity unmistakably since 2002 when it came to power. During the SoE between July 2016 and July 2018 countless strikes were banned and workers’ demands for their rights were hindered by both legal/administrative means and the physical brutality of the security forces. No improvement was seen in the case of workers after the SoE was abolished and the repressive attitude persisted. The pro-gov media that covered events in line with AKP’s class attitude and labor policies also adopted an incriminatory stance. When Doğan Medya, the last mainstream media group that could be considered partly impartial, was sold to Demirören Holding in 2018, most of the mainstream media outlets came under the control of the government and thus news critically analyzing the government’s labor policy could only be reached only in small and alternative media outlets.

This report attempted to show economic/class-based discrimination in the media through three examples, namely the 2009 TEKEL protests, the 2014 Soma Mine Massacre and the 2018 3rd Airport Protests. Discriminatory discourse and hate speech targeting different sections of society adopted by AKP spokespersons and pro-gov media are also seen in worker protests. Here, one also comes across with the fact that the government’s class politics is reproduced by the texts in the media. Considering this, it becomes obvious that ideological orientation in the outputs of the media wired into the government cannot be speculated independent of property and control relations. As we discussed in the first part, AKP, which boosted the capital of its cohorts by means of an economic policy of favoritism, also changed the ownership of the media outlets in this way, a fact which can also be observed in the ideology of the news contents. Just like AKP adopts an anti-labor policy thanks to the support of the bourgeoisie, the pro-gov media reproduces a similar hostility in their news contents. When media discourses are analyzed in a holistic fashion, it becomes clear that discriminatory discourses in the media are closely related to politics, economy, culture and ideology. While the way the media gradually came under the control of the government can be observed chronologically, another point to mention is that class antagonism in the mainstream media is a phenomenon independent of time.


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[1] İlgili rapor için ayrıca bkz. http://disk.org.tr/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AKP-D%C3%B6neminde-Emek-DISK-RAPORU.pdf Date of Access:24.11.2018.

[2] The table has been quoted from the article “AKP’nin işsizlik karnesi” by Murat Birdal. For further information see https://www.evrensel.net/yazi/79703/akpnin-issizlik-karnesi Date of Access: 08.11.2018.

[3] The table has been quoted from “AKP Döneminde Emek Raporu” prepared by DİSK.

[4] See also. Kaya, R. (2016). İktidar Yumağı. İstanbul: İmge.


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