Last week, an effort was made to shape the public perception of any damaging comments made about the Turkish economy by threatening jail sentences and monetary fines for such statements. Stories to this effect appeared in the media, followed by a speech by Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak the next day in which he laid the ideological groundwork, or “infrastructure of thought,” for prosecuting those who speak negatively about the economy.
Itwas implied that a law like this was being drafted: "Anyone wholies, misinforms, misdirects, or speculates about the economy, thenational currency, financial indicators, prices, values or ratings,at a level that might have significant effect, will be punished bysix months to two years in prison and up to five thousand days worthof punitive fines.”
Fromthis perspective, reporting on, commenting on, or questioningeconomic data will be punishable by law.
Here’sa simple example of what this may look like: it can be debatedwhether the Central Bank foreign exchange reserves are real or not.Those who do discuss this question could be jailed for “creatingrumors.” On the other hand, officials in Ankara who cover up swaptransactions, do away with transparency, and fuel worries through theambiguity they create can also be prosecuted on the same grounds.
Thelaw doesn't even have to pass. Two Bloomberg reporters in Turkey,Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalınkılıç, were sued in June for"trying to damage the stability of Turkish economy.” Threejournalists and many other social media users were also taken tocourt for writing comments on Twitter.
Following the Pastor Brunson crisis with the U.S. in August 2018, Karakaya and Yalınkılıç had written that, with the increase in the dollar exchange rate, banks were no longer able to meet the demand for foreign currency withdrawals, demands would be met on the next business day, and the Banking Supervision and Regulation Agency (BDDK) would be holding a weekend meeting with senior banking officials.
Theprosecution indictment stated that the 36 defendants were being suedon the grounds that they tried to create an environment of insecurityin society regarding economic matters, and tried to “morallybenefit” from it. Cases were opened in connection with articlesregarding "Information-Based Market Fraud" within thecapital market law, but it seems that there was no evidence of theaccused having any monetary gain, so the new category of "moralbenefit" was added.
However, what the two reported was actually right. Both BRSA and Central Bank data showed on the day of the report that foreign currency deposits had a strong tendency of withdrawal (with 12 billion dollars withdrawn between August 3-17). Banks aside, Central Bank vaults were emptying rapidly to support banks with foreign exchange cash (decreasing by 1.3 billion dollars).
Itis very clear today that those who manage economic policy are afteran “infrastructure of thought” to ensure a widespread campaign ofsilence.
Thequestion is this: At a time when all written and visual mediachannels are government-controlled, every negative development in theeconomy presentedas becauseof "foreign forces,” any positive development is due toeconomic management, and news of how great the economy is doing isspread widely, why are criticisms being punished? Do they think thatdespite all this media hegemony, "government propaganda" isuseless and those other "15-20 people" are listened tomore? Investors, people who save their money — were they listeningto those 15-20 people instead of the government?
TreasuryandFinance Minister Berat Albayrak said during a speech he gave inSamsun last week about critics of the economy that, "They damagethe country,” "They are scaring the people,” “They arecreating anti-Turkey perceptions,” and “They are no differentthan people we see at terror attacks.” He went on to say, "Despitethe 15-20 people who say nothing that holds up, we have performedvery well. People who criticize have some sort of political,commercial, or intelligence interests — they’re working forsomeone else.”
Inshort, according to Minister Albayrak, those who commented negativelyabout the economy had political or commercial motives, or they wereseeking to carry intelligence to foreign powers.
Itbecomes more clear every day: the economy management in Ankara isunable to manage the economy, but it is trying to show a good face tothe Presidency who appointed them and to the people, trying to painta picture of being “well-managed.” If something is wrong, it'sbecause of foreign powers, or the economists, analysts and columnistsworking for them.
Thisis on their minds: "How well we could manage the economy if wesilence the criticism?"
Whenpeople say “the dollar to lira exchange rate will be around 10 or12,” it must show the insecurity of those in Ankara, those whomanage the economy, if they take these estimations seriously.
With all the media hegemony, trying to put people in jail for social media activities shows that they think these policy and decision makers, the public and companies, don't find them convincing. It's problematic to think that these audiences and companies will buy these “skyrocketed” estimations without question.
Thiskind of pressure and defamation of critics only helps strengthengossip. Those who don't see the negative developments in themainstream media lose confidence. This loss of confidence turns intoa whisper network involving far-stretching rumors. This pushescitizens to buy foreign currency and erodes the financial system.
Say, Ankara which says "foreign powers are trying to destroy our economy", what do they think about resident citizens buying 40 billion dollars worth of foreign currency in 1 year?
The gist of the story is this: Economic management, unable to overcome the crisis, is trying to find an "enemy" to cover up its incompetency in front of the people who are seeking solutions and asking questions.
Electionsare over, it's been more than seven months. It's November, but theeconomy is still the same beyond the base effect. Any new number isseen as "recovery" after the heavy drop we experienced. Allthe damage has been imposed upon households and companies.
Thecollective suicide of two families from İstanbul and Antalya werereported by state-friendly newspapers as “let's not hurt thegovernment.” Those who mentioned urban poverty and unemployment asroot issues behind the tragedies were accused of “inciting things.”Both pieces of news had unemployment and heavy debt burdens behindthe deaths.
Thepeople who govern Turkey, not only can they not stop the economiccrisis: they are making it deeper with their incorrect decisions.They are trying to stop people from talking about it and threateningthose who do so with prison.
Let'send with some words from British Central Banker J.C. Stamp: "Itis easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge theconsequences of dodging our responsibilities."