Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

TURKEY: Media Bares Its Anti-Kurdish Bias

Jay Cassano*

ISTANBUL, Oct 28 2011 (IPS) - Following the attacks by Kurdish rebels against the Turkish military last week, the Turkish press has openly struck a nationalist and militaristic tone.

Headlines in Turkish papers the day after the attacks were universally sensationalist and partisan.

Zaman, the most widely read daily in the country, condemned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with “They Crossed the Line” as its front page headline. The article went on to state, “The PKK, which massacres soldiers, civilians, women and children, showed its barbaric face in Çukurca last night.”

Habertürk referred to the attack as a “Crime Against Humanity” in large font in another front page headline.

The liberal daily Radikal ran “The Cursed Face of Terror” superimposed over a photograph of a crying woman hugging a young girl.

Posta, a tabloid with readership of nearly half a million, picked up on this theme with articles entitled, “Turkey is Full of Crying Mothers” and “How Long Will We Keep Suffering?”

The socialist daily BirGün ran the only non-provocative headline, “Peace is the Only Way.” Various other papers described the attacks as “vicious” and the PKK militants as “treacherous” or “traitorous”.

According to Garen Aram Kampril, coordinator of the Media Watch and Hate Speech Project at the Hrant Dink Foundation, “the media have a nationalist point of view and there is a militarist mentality in the headlines and articles.”

Founded in 2007 in honour of assassinated Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, the Foundation directs much of its energy towards highlighting and exposing hate speech and bias in the media.

Most papers made the editorial decision to visually emphasise a selection of quotes from President Abdullah Gül’s speech after the attacks, namely: “The revenge for these attacks will be great.”

“This is the language of war,” Kampril told IPS.

Furthermore, each publication used the Turkish and Arabic words for “martyrs” to refer to the slain soldiers. In contrast, the number of PKK guerillas killed was only mentioned further down in the article, referred to simply as “the dead.”

Kampril believes that the use of the word martyr is “a religious saying, but even the so-called secular military is now using this term.”

He takes this as a strong sign of bias “because one side is martyrs and the other is terrorists. No one cares about people dying on the other side. They are considered subhuman.”

Two days after the attacks, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened a meeting with the five major Turkish news agencies and most of the national newspapers to discuss how best to cover the ‘Kurdish issue’.

Because this media meeting was limited only to representatives of large publications, its end results are unknown. The joint statement released by the five major news agencies makes it seem that the government’s aim was to curb the sensationalism in news reports.

The agencies present pledged not to “broadcast news that incites the public to violence, panic, chaos, hate or enmity.”

However, many people have expressed concern about the goals of this meeting.

Several newspapers critical of the government – ultra-secularist or far-left publications – were not invited to the meeting.

Kampril believes that “Erdogan excluded them because he thought that he could not control them and they would not obey. Erdogan wants a homogenous media. He wants one voice to control society and to create a common opinion on this issue. This is contrary to democracy.”

After the meeting Erdogan announced “we have evaluated together the ways in which media will not serve the aims of terror by knowingly or unknowingly propagandising.”

In another example of government control over citizens’ access to independent information about the conflict, Firat News Agency’s website remains banned.

Based in the southeast, Firat is the only agency that has ties to the Kurdish movements.

Because its primary website has been banned for some time, Firat established several mirror websites at different domains. The morning after the PKK attacks, none of the mirrors were accessible inside Turkey.

Following the attacks, much of the Turkish public retaliated with anti-PKK demonstrations. Some attacked the offices of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which supports equal rights for Kurds and is viewed by an overwhelming majority of Turkish society as a mouthpiece for the PKK.

BDP offices in Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Konya, Aydin, Adiyaman, Osmaniye, and Sakarya were vandalised amidst nationwide anti-Kurdish demonstrations.

Rather than report on the backlash against the PKK objectively, Turkish media made the decision to effectively fan the flames for further violence.

Hürriyet, the second most popular daily in the country, printed, “The rage has spilled over to the streets.”

“The media provokes nationalism,” Kampril told IPS. “Of course, these are people who are very ready to be provoked. But the media is contributing to the problem.”

After the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the seat of the Kurdish minority in the southeastern city Van, the effects of this partisan media coverage were clearly felt.

Habertürk news anchor Duygu Canbas opened a segment reporting on the earthquake by saying, “Even though this news comes from the East, from Van, it has really shaken and upset all of us in Turkey.”

Müge Anli, host of a daytime talk show, commented, “whenever they [Kurds] feel like it, they throw stones at soldiers and hunt them in the mountains like birds, but whenever something bad happens they say let the soldiers and police come to their rescue.”

Kampril said he noticed trends of hate speech on social media such as Facebook and Twitter that have been spurred on by the media.

“There is a direct link between media coverage and hate speech because the people who are posting these tweets or creating these Facebook pages are the people in society.”

“The media in a way reflects the tendencies in society but also produces stereotypes and nationalist tendencies,” he added.

*Cihan Tekay contributed to this report.

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