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.
It was implied that a law like this was being drafted: “Anyone who lies, misinforms, misdirects, or speculates about the economy, the national currency, financial indicators, prices, values or ratings, at a level that might have significant effect, will be punished by six months to two years in prison and up to five thousand days worth of punitive fines.”
From this perspective, reporting on, commenting on, or questioning economic data will be punishable by law.
Here’s a simple example of what this may look like: it can be debated whether the Central Bank foreign exchange reserves are real or not. Those who do discuss this question could be jailed for “creating rumors.” On the other hand, officials in Ankara who cover up swap transactions, do away with transparency, and fuel worries through the ambiguity they create can also be prosecuted on the same grounds.
The law 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.” Three journalists and many other social media users were also taken to court 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.
The prosecution indictment stated that the 36 defendants were being sued on the grounds that they tried to create an environment of insecurity in society regarding economic matters, and tried to “morally benefit” from it. Cases were opened in connection with articles regarding “Information-Based Market Fraud” within the capital market law, but it seems that there was no evidence of the accused having any monetary gain, so the new category of “moral benefit” 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).
It is very clear today that those who manage economic policy are after an “infrastructure of thought” to ensure a widespread campaign of silence.
The question is this: At a time when all written and visual media channels are government-controlled, every negative development in the economy presented as because of “foreign forces,” any positive development is due to economic management, and news of how great the economy is doing is spread widely, why are criticisms being punished? Do they think that despite all this media hegemony, “government propaganda” is useless and those other “15-20 people” are listened to more? Investors, people who save their money — were they listening to those 15-20 people instead of the government?
Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said during a speech he gave in Samsun last week about critics of the economy that, “They damage the country,” “They are scaring the people,” “They are creating anti-Turkey perceptions,” and “They are no different than people we see at terror attacks.” He went on to say, “Despite the 15-20 people who say nothing that holds up, we have performed very well. People who criticize have some sort of political, commercial, or intelligence interests — they’re working for someone else.”
In short, according to Minister Albayrak, those who commented negatively about the economy had political or commercial motives, or they were seeking to carry intelligence to foreign powers.
It becomes more clear every day: the economy management in Ankara is unable to manage the economy, but it is trying to show a good face to the Presidency who appointed them and to the people, trying to paint a picture of being “well-managed.” If something is wrong, it’s because of foreign powers, or the economists, analysts and columnists working for them.
This is on their minds: “How well we could manage the economy if we silence the criticism?”
When people say “the dollar to lira exchange rate will be around 10 or 12,” it must show the insecurity of those in Ankara, those who manage 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.
This kind of pressure and defamation of critics only helps strengthen gossip. Those who don’t see the negative developments in the mainstream media lose confidence. This loss of confidence turns into a whisper network involving far-stretching rumors. This pushes citizens 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.
Elections are over, it’s been more than seven months. It’s November, but the economy is still the same beyond the base effect. Any new number is seen as “recovery” after the heavy drop we experienced. All the damage has been imposed upon households and companies.
The collective suicide of two families from İstanbul and Antalya were reported by state-friendly newspapers as “let’s not hurt the government.” Those who mentioned urban poverty and unemployment as root issues behind the tragedies were accused of “inciting things.” Both pieces of news had unemployment and heavy debt burdens behind the deaths.
The people who govern Turkey, not only can they not stop the economic crisis: they are making it deeper with their incorrect decisions. They are trying to stop people from talking about it and threatening those who do so with prison.
Let’s end with some words from British Central Banker J.C. Stamp: “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”