Skip to main content

Erdogan tells Turkish media to gloss over domestic abuse

Turkish president blames rise in domestic violence against women on media, and says coverage is 'overdone'
Erdogan said coverage of domestic violence would 'drive this nation over the edge' (AFP)

On the eve of international women's day, Turkey's president blamed the media for a rise in cases of domestic violence against women and child abuse, and told journalists to steer clear of reporting them.

"Television broadcasts have overdone this business," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of coverage of violence against women, harassment and rape. "I call on the media here: Please cut these types of broadcasts. Otherwise you will drive this nation over the edge.”

Before lashing out at the media, he said he hoped to eradicate all forms of discrimination and wrongdoing against women, and used a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad about "heaven being under a mother's feet”.

The comments, made to his MPs in parliament on 6 March, were condemned by women's rights activists as evidence of a deep-rooted bias in politics that seeks to protect men at any cost.

Erdogan pushed the theme further in a speech on Wednesday, reiterating his displeasure at seeing news items about abuse of women and children and said it was just another means of "objectifying" women. 

One social media user said the animosity against women begins with those in power.

Translation: Of course we want the cause behind the rise in violence against women to be banned. Animosity against women starts with those in power. Erdogan wants news on violence against women to stop.

Tuesday was not the first time Erdogan pointed the finger at the media for a rise in domestic violence incidents.

On 5 January Erdogan, after an incident where a man involved in a divorce proceeding murdered his two children, told a news conference: "There is no justifying such actions. They [such people] are murderers.

"But when we see all these things that have happened recently on television screens we ask 'Should we blame the media? Don't broadcast such things'. On the other hand, we also wonder if it [such news] serves as a warning."  

In February alone, 47 women were killed by men, according to a report by an NGO working to end violence against women. In January, 28 women were killed.

The report also stated 30 media reported cases of child abuse, without specifying a timeframe for these cases. 

Last year, 409 women were killed by men and 332 women were subjected to sexual abuse, according to the same NGO. However those statistics were based solely on documented cases. The vast majority of abuse cases go unreported.

Conflating issues

Earlier this month, the government announced it was working on introducing legislation against child abusers that would include tougher punishments, including chemical castration, and more preventive measures.

It was when this measure was being introduced to parliament that Erdogan once again asked for adulterers to be dealt with in the same way.

Some questioned the reasoning behind conflating criminal and moral issues. His supporters said he is voicing a standing public demand. Others said he is trying to impose his personal views on society.

The conservative and patriarchal AKP government has often struggled to strike a balance between what it sees as private family matters and legal action to protect women and children from abuse.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag when he was justice minister in April 2016 questioned state involvement when it comes to domestic violence and issues between spouses.

"How right is it for the state, police, soldiers, judges, psychologists, social workers and experts to come between a man and woman in cases of domestic violence and disagreements?” asked Bozdag.

"Does it help the man and woman to save their nest, end violence and improve family togetherness or does it make reconciliation between man and woman impossible? We need to seriously debate this,” he said.

Women fear violence

A survey carried out by the Gender and Women's studies research centre at Istanbul's Kadir Has University during January and February with 1,205 men and women found that, for 61 percent of women, the biggest problem was violence.

The percentage of women who see violence as the threat facing them steadily rose from 53 percent in 2016 and 57 percent in 2017. 

In a news conference on Wednesday the Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said prevention of violence against women was a top priority for the presidency.

He said Turkey had taken vital steps in the last 10 years, making many legal changes to guarantee women's rights.

Many women's rights organisations, however, say that the problem lies with a lack of proper implementation of measures meant to protect women at all levels of government and law enforcement.

Erdogan's call on media to stop reporting incidents of violence against women and children is likely to yield immediate results. The majority of mainstream Turkish media fully toes the government line politically and refrains from even the slightest criticism of policies.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.