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Turkish media duped by the Guardian's 'second Suez Canal' April Fool's prank

Joke story ran on front pages of several major newspapers in Turkey, before their websites quickly began to row back on the reports
A now deleted BBC Turkish report translated the Guardian's prank story for April Fool's as a serious news story on 1 April 2021 (Screengrab)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

For many, the Guardian's story on 1 April about a project to build a second Suez Canal going through Israel was clearly too good to believe or outright fake news. After all, the story was written by a fake reporter and all the sources were made up.

But the conspiracy-ridden Turkish media quickly fell for this April Fool’s prank. Even the BBC's esteemed Turkish service translated the story on Thursday as if it was serious news and distributed it to all its partners in Turkey's media.

The Suez Canal has been a top news item in recent days, after the mammoth Ever Given container ship got jammed across the waterway, cutting off the vital trade artery for a week.

BBC Turkish’s headline was quite innocent: “Second Suez Canal project, UN is reviewing a second seaway,” the report said, which was later deleted from the website.

Turkish outlets, such as Hurriyet, Milliyet, Birgun and many others also ran the story, including the part about another alternative such as recreating an ancient passage to the Nile from the Red Sea. Many Turkish publications dubbed it as the “Pharaoh’s waterway”.

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The Turkish reports even didn’t question these lines: “Felucca operators could carry as much as 28 percent of the Suez cargo volumes, or less. Camel trains would be on standby should water levels in the Nile drop. Questioned whether such a scheme remained feasible, a spokesperson said: 'See those pyramids? We built those, didn’t we?'"

Yeni Safak Suez Canal
Yeni Safak headline in the front page on April 2, 2021 says a war erupted over the Suez Canal earlier than expected as Israel would take control of a second canal (Screengrab)

However, one particular newspaper went further. Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported on Friday on its front page that “the war erupted earlier than expected” over the Suez Canal as “Israel and the UK '' were acting together to bypass Egyptian control.

The now-deleted Yeni Safak report said: “If the project is realised, Israel, which is an intruder in Palestinian lands, will control the strategic wheel of China, Middle East and Europe as well as 12 percent of the global sea trade.”

The newspaper also said that a report last year claimed that Israel and UAE have been working on an alternative Suez Canal, which would connect Israel’s Ashdod port to Eilat.

Turkish media often suffers from fake news stories, mostly due to poor translation skills and loss of professional journalists among its ranks.

Pro-government and opposition newspapers regularly run outrageous allegations over “external powers” or “secret service operators” trying to destroy Turkey while it is emerging as a regional superpower, without providing any sources whatsoever.

In 2018, a Reuters Digital News report said that Turkey ranked first in a list of countries where people complain about completely fake news stories. Forty-nine percent of Turkish respondents said they had encountered "fake news" in the week before the survey was taken.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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