Media outlets in Turkey, an overwhelming majority of which are controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), have been accused of hiding the true scale of deadly flash floods in Turkey’s Black Sea region, with locals saying they expect there to be hundreds of fatalities while the official death toll stands at 31.
Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said in a statement on Friday that the death toll from the flash floods had risen to 31, with 29 people perishing in northern Kastamonu province and two in the neighboring region of Sinop.
However, social media users including many locals from the Bozkurt district of Kastamonu, one of the hardest-hit areas, on Friday said under the hashtags #selfelaketi (flood disaster) and #bozkurtyokoldu (Bozkurt is destroyed) that the scale of devastation was far worse in Bozkurt than reported by the Turkish media, adding that they expect there to be hundreds of fatalities since nearly 1,000 people were missing.
“Why don’t the media reveal the real scale of the flood? Hundreds of people are missing in Bozkurt alone. The situation, which is being reported as an ordinary flood, is actually much more disastrous than you can imagine,” a Twitter user said.
“Turkey’s biggest flooding takes place, but it doesn’t make the headlines,” another user said, adding that they would continue to try to make their voices heard on social media with the aim of preventing further devastation to the flood-hit regions.
The pro-government media also took a similar stance when reporting on recent wildfires in the country that claimed the lives of nine people and destroyed large swathes of forestland, leading to widespread criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP government over the apparent poor response and inadequate preparedness.
As residents lost homes and livestock, anger turned toward the government, which admitted that it did not have a usable firefighting aircraft fleet. Opposition parties accused the government of failing to procure firefighting planes and instead spending money on construction projects that they say are harmful to the environment.
Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), earlier this week imposed fines on six TV stations, including Fox TV, Habertürk and Halk TV, because of the way they covered wildfires that started on the country’s southern and western coasts on July 28 and were brought under control on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan on Friday visited Bozkurt and announced that they had declared provinces of Kastamonu, Bartın and Sinop disaster areas while failing to admit the true scale of the devastation in the flood-hit regions.
Following locals’ statements and videos that paint a much darker picture of the areas affected by the floods than the media, especially in Bozkurt, Erdoğan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun on Friday warned in a series of tweets against “systematic lies and disinformation campaigns” on social media, sparking reactions.
“In sensitive times such as this, some seek to create public indignation through social media. Our people would never let these immoral campaigns exploit their feelings of humanity and conscience,” Altun said.
According to a Human Rights Watch report in December 2020, RTÜK is contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.
Broadcasting bans and fines are used by RTÜK to punish TV stations that are critical of the AKP government.