Coverage of Turkey in the Western media

by İhsan Yilmaz, Today's Zaman on . Posted in Columns

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Especially after the “one minute” incident at Davos, some Western media sources have been increasingly emotional in their journalism and news reporting of Turkey.

The majority of pieces that appear in the Western media are far from balanced, objective or accurate. One does not need to be an Edward Said reader to know how Orientalism influences coverage of Islam in the Western media, but the case of Turkey requires special attention. Soon after the Turkish Parliament, dominated by the Justice and Democracy Party (AKP), rejected a motion that would allow American troops to use Turkish soil in their invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Western media increasingly described the AKP as an Islamo-fascist party. Now, after the “one minute” incident, and after 10 years of AKP rule -- which is supported not only by secular liberal-democrats, but by even non-Muslim citizens such as Armenians, despite their critical distance and lack of engagement -- these very circles claim that Turkey is becoming an authoritarian country under the rule of the AKP and the Hizmet (Gülen) Movement.

These media outlets never explained to us why they have jettisoned their former discursive assault on the AKP, and also they have never apologized for their gross error. And now these reborn McCarthys hardly bother to substantiate their claims. For instance, they safely and comfortably say that the Turkish police force is dominated by the Hizmet Movement but they never mention that this accusation has been constantly denied by both officials and the Hizmet Movement itself. They also fail to write that, to date, not even a single police officer has been caught red-handed for being attached to the movement and simultaneously conspiring with Ergenekon suspects. The National Intelligence Agency, the staunchly secularist military and the gendarmerie that is controlled by the military, have separate intelligence organizations. So far the myth that the movement controls the police has not been proven. There is not even a single case on the issue. On the contrary, what we know is that police officers who have a personal grudge against others in the force easily resort to this accusation to blackmail their rivals, some of whom are not even practicing Muslims.

While reporting the anti-coup Ergenekon cases, these Western media outlets claim that the government and the movement use them to suppress their opposition and critics. But they do not inform their readers that staging coups is a tradition in Turkey and almost every decade the military topples democratically elected governments. They never mention that as late as April 27, 2007, the military threatened the government in order to prevent someone with a headscarved wife from being elected as president. Coups are not a thing of the past in Turkey, and in Turkish society about 30 percent of the people who have benefited from undemocratic, undeserved Kemalist privileges continue to see coups as a legitimate solution to get rid the AKP, which they reportedly detest.

These McCarthyist media outlets that see every police officer as a secret Gülen follower never explain to their readers how Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, as well as Christian priests and missionaries, were slaughtered in Turkey after they were targeted by pro-Ergenekon circles, or how this chain of assassinations abruptly stopped after Ergenekon suspects were imprisoned.

These emotional media outlets also never bother to ask questions to the accused and report their reactions. Can you imagine a piece in the Western media that narrates only the Taliban’s side of the story and concludes that the American Army is a lawless barbaric army, using “urinating soldiers” as evidence, without mentioning the thousands of other law-abiding soldiers? Yet while reporting the Ahmet Şik and Nedim Şener case, Western media outlets do exactly the same thing. They never answer this paradox: if the AKP and the Hizmet Movement are chasing after their critics, why have they not dealt with the writers of dozens of libelous books written about them with many more accusations than Şik’s book? Why could they not explain why nothing happened to the writers of other books that write exactly the same things, if the movement was interested in censoring the content of Şik’s book? Why did nothing happened to the critical journalists and columnists working for the Doğan Media Group, or the staunch enemies of the AKP and the movement such as Sözcü, Cumhuriyet, Ortadoğu, Milli Gazete, etc., that not only criticize, but also insult both the AKP and the movement on a regular basis?

These Western media outlets never give their readers the full picture by saying that the judiciary has always been problematic in Turkey and it is actually getting better, in line with Turkey’s EU reforms. It suffers from several problems ranging from a state-protecting mentality to an enthusiasm for imprisoning suspects, but these problems were more widespread in the past. The only difference is that now the old elite also started suffering from the very system it established. It must also be noted that the same elite does not support Turkey’s EU accession process, democratization, transparency or the rule of law. Last but not the least, can these emotional media outlets explain why the movement, if it has captured the state, illegally silences its critics -- then why is it still the biggest champion of the EU process and a brand new democratic constitution that will lessen the influence of the state and empower the citizenry?