The coverage of Turkey by European and American media outlets is becoming increasingly hysterical, and is far from the established rules of critical and objective journalism.
Since the Gezi protests broke out in June 2013, Western journalists have faced a barrage of criticism. When they reported the events in Taksim Square, they were criticized by the Gezi protestors for being too soft on the Erdoğan government. When they changed their tone under pressure and took a hysterically anti-Government stance, they were ridiculed by their serious colleagues. CNN provided the best example when it had a non-stop nine-hour broadcasting of protests in Taksim Square through its CNN International brand, with war correspondents staging a virtual war scene.
Now, people are asking the same network to broadcast live from Ferguson, Missouri. Nine hours of live coverage? No way. You will be satisfied to see nine minutes of street protests with U.S. police firing gas canisters and arresting journalists. However, none of it is to be seen on CNN.
In the language of modern journalism, reporters may become activists and "go native." This means one thing only: taking a clearly political and ideological position in a national debate rather than reporting the facts and a certain critical distance.
One would assume there would be accountability for misreporting, for being selective and manipulative, or for simply failing to report the facts. Not so when it comes to Turkey, it seems.
Before the March 30 local elections in Turkey, a slew of foreign newspapers, websites and their so-called experts predicted a major defeat for the ruling AK Party. Some gave figures such as Erdoğan will not get more than 30 percent of the vote. Some newspapers openly called on Turkish voters to vote for the opposition parties. But all their analyses and predictions turned out to be wrong. The AK Party performed much better than they anticipated. Their political forecast failed to reflect the facts on the ground. As a result, they failed or deliberately misguided their readers about a very important political event in Turkey. Any consequences? None. If an engineer or weather broadcaster has consistently failed in his analyses and predictions, he would face professional consequences. But not when it is Turkey that they keep failing with.
However, the problem is not just misconstruing the facts to reflect one's own political choice. It goes deeper. The "Erdoğan the Sultan" figure has now become the new darling of the neo-Orientalist establishment in Europe, the U.S. and Israeli lobbyists masquerading as think tank experts and analysts. For them, Erdoğan is the new bad and ugly, but infinitely useful Ottoman Sultan whom they can evoke in any context to attack Turkey, pressure the government or to censure criticism of others such as Israel.
A recent Washington Post editorial provides a perfect example of this. Commenting on the presidential elections held on Aug. 10 in Turkey, the Post editorial speaks of the need to "turn away from Mr. Erdoğan's repression." It refers to the government's response to the Gezi protests last year, Erdoğan's recent criticism of Israel and the question of jailed journalists.
It is interesting that three disparate facts are put together without any context. Two national issues, the police force and freedom of media, are packaged with criticism of Israel. This is very convenient because they are sufficient to convince the Post's uninformed readers of Erdoğan's alleged "sultanic ways."
But it is also an ironic coincidence that the Post published this editorial in the middle of the street rioting in Ferguson, Missouri to protest the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Since the events started, the state police in Missouri used not only tear gas, but also army units, curfews, and have arrested peaceful protestors and journalists. One resident and former veteran said, "I thought I was back in Iraq" when he saw the army on the streets of Ferguson. When the Post reports the events there, it provides a context and exercises caution not to stoke racial tension; fair enough, but such care is not shown in regards to Turkey.
It is not just reporting, of course. Orientalism lives on in images and pictures. A recent story about Turkey in The Economist had a stereotypical cartoon depicting President-elect Erdoğan as an Ottoman sultan with a turban on his head and a tasbih in his left hand (left hand? Anyone who knows anything about Turkish or Islamic culture would know that you do not use a religious artifact with your left hand) while flying on a flying-carpet from one minaret to the other.
This crass cartoon misses only one thing: the belly dancer – a classic fixture of Orientalist imagery. I guess they left her out because Erdoğan is too religious and too much of a family man for her to appear in the mixture. "Erdoğan the Sultan," of course, exists in the mind of The Economist and its reporters as a convenient image to attack Erdoğan and his government. It conveniently suppresses the fact that he has worked harder than any other political figure to win one election after another. But never mind, he is a sultan. He must have some magic wand somewhere, a wish-granting genie or a curved sword to get what he wants.
In the meantime, the police in Ferguson expel all journalists from the area on grounds of "establishing security and implementing the law." Those who love the Sultan Erdoğan movie acquiesce quietly.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey