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CNN-Turk airs penguin documentary during Istanbul riots

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called social media a "nuisance." Here's why.


Cooper Fleishman

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 2, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 2:25 pm CDT

While masses of protesters battled police armed with tear gas bombs in Istanbul Saturday, CNN-Turk chose instead to air an episode of Spy in the Huddle, a three-part documentary on penguins.

The broadcast poured lighter fluid on online accusations of a countrywide media blackout over riots in Taksim Square, where demonstrators protested a government initiative to turn a park into a shopping center and army barracks.

Ignored in local media, Turkish protesters go online

Bloomberg Turkey Bureau Chief Benjamin Harvey tweeted Saturday:

Seriously, CNN-Turk is airing a show on penguins.

— Benjamin Harvey (@BenjaminHarvey) June 1, 2013

A follower responded with a photo of a television:

“@benjaminharvey: Seriously, CNN-Turk is airing a show on penguins.”…

— Nevra Sezer (@nevrasezer) June 1, 2013


A comparison shot of CNN-Turk’s and CNN International’s coverage popped up on 


The broadcast prompted outrage on Twitter, Tumblr, and even CNN online, where a CNN iReport community contributor published the article “CNN Turk shows documentary on penguins while CNN International reports Istanbul”:

Why does CNN international show live coverage of the protests in Turkey, while CNN Türk show a documentary on Penguins? How is this even possible? How can it ignore the police brutality—there are dozens and dozens of clips? How can it not show the broad sections of Turkish society, when the PM says it is only a group of radicals. How can it collude with a government obviously out of control? Yesterday the PM admitted the police had overacted and there will be investigations. And today? It continues all over Turkey. 

CNN advertised the broadcast on May 31. Meanwhile, this was happening in Taksim Square:

On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called social media a “nuisance.” This might be why: Facebook has become one of the only reliable means of spreading information. This video, of police surrounding and beating an unarmed women, has been shared more than 30,000 times.

As of June 2, the violence continues:

Police are lobbing more tear gas over the barricade, protesters continuing to build it up in Besiktas – violence has to stop

— Aaron Stein (@aaronstein1) June 2, 2013

Yaprak Ünver contributed to this report.

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*First Published: Jun 2, 2013, 5:47 pm CDT