German media’s democratic assessment

Published 30.07.2016 01:09
Updated 30.07.2016 01:13
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared in various German magazines’ cover pages. Süddeutsche Zeitung continued to cover Erdoğan on their first page days after the failed coup attempt, even with the shooting spree in Munich.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared in various German magazines’ cover pages. Süddeutsche Zeitung continued to cover Erdoğan on their first page days after the failed coup attempt, even with the shooting spree in Munich.

On July 15, Turkey had to face one of the biggest events in its history, a coup attempt fought off with the support of civilians. In international media, notably Germany, the events have been covered in various news outlets and magazines based on a double-standard approach without taking any kind of responsibility and employing verifiable journalism

Checks and balances are sine qua non in modern democratic states. Whereas there is a consensus on these pillars, the news media is accepted in different instances as the fourth power. However, media organs do not have this status granted by law. Nevertheless, the news media does have a significant role in informing people through various means. Politicians and businessman as well as celebrities and ideological movements refer to media organs as their mouthpieces. Whereas print media was considered the possible fourth power thanks to its educational character in the late 18th and 19th century, this fourth estate can be used for countless purposes in today's world.

Events in Turkey during the night of July 15 paved the way to an essential decision its people and all the democratic forces in Turkey had to take. Facing a military coup where military forces unscrupulously fought their fellow human beings was a scene Turkey had never witnessed before. Usually military forces are keen to win the people's support to grow their legitimacy and help them implement their plans with minimum opposition and in a short space of time. However, soldiers shot civilians and fighter jets bombed Parliament and dozens of police officers who were not in combat with them. Twelve hours of struggle by the Turkish people and democratically elected politicians, at the front line alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, resulted in the failure of the putschist soldiers and generals.

Reporting by German media outlets on July 15

Whereas Turkey and its people have stood against this uprising among the military, media outlets around the world and especially in the West preferred another discourse. Instead of declaring their solidarity and providing the possible means for maintaining democratic stability in Turkey, they blamed Turkey for doing the opposite. The question everyone has to ask is why do they choose groundless views that are the opposite of their own values rather than reach out during such a critical period for Turkey.

N-tv: "The real putschist is Erdoğan himself."

Besides the dozens of thought-terminating cliches and frozen prejudices towards the media, I would like to mention the probable reasons for the double-standard reporting in the West, while focusing only on the German-speaking case.

Different newspapers tried to show the coup attempt as an act by unknown or personally acting generals who were aiming to overthrow the president and the government to re-implement a democratic regime, despite putschist generals, like aide to the chief of general staff Levent Türkkan, admitting it was a Gülen Movement plot. Türkkan even officially stated that he is part of the Gülen Movement and that members of this movement in the army planned and executed it. Furthermore, instead of focusing on the 246 deaths, 179 of whom were civilians, and the obvious resistance against the coup by millions of people on the streets, the president was labeled as the "real" putschist. A German channel reported on July 19: "The real putschist is Erdoğan himself."

Instead of investigating the events of July 15 and afterwards, the president and the ruling party are being accused of staged the coup by themselves to consolidate their legitimacy and to eliminate all kinds of political opposition. The common statement by all the parties in Parliament has been purposely overlooked, similar to non-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) sympathizers demonstrating against the coup attempt.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine: "The fear of the preacher."

Furthermore, the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote on July 18 about a "war" between president and Fetullulah Gülen. The whole coup attempt has been reduced to Erdoğan's "paranoid fear" of Fethullah Gülen and his movement. The Gülen Movement is believed to prefer modern sciences over religion, whereas Erdoğan is still "using mosques for his political campaigns." Simply put, there is not one word about the events of July 15 and the massacre of hundreds of civilians. The focus was on the claim that the president is hell-bent on getting vengeance on the philanthropist Gülen.

The ZEIT newspaper published an article headlined "Who has won here?" with a picture of the abandoned clothes, guns and tanks on the Bosporus Bridge. The picture reminds the reader of the soldiers that fell during the First World War. The article follows a timeline from 2002 until today and aims to legitimize the coup attempt by mentioning the unjust things done by the governments, based on lies and half-truths. One reason claimed is that the president has "forced women to wear the Islamic headscarf" whereas the liberalization for female students is the only thing that has been established. Moreover, Turkey has been depicted as an example of how democracy can be removed by democracy and those who still cheer Erdoğan's victory in 2002 are characterized as "heartless." Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine, posted an article on their website with the headline "Turkey: Death of Democracy." Some may think while reading this article that the military coup was successful.

ZEIT: "Who has won here?"

Though, the president is being blamed for establishing a dictatorship through the declaration of the three-month state of emergency. Turkey is one of the most under-threat countries, being consistently menaced by countless cruel terrorist groups like the PKK, Democratic Union Party (PYD), DAESH and the Gülen Movement, which has infiltrated state institutions since the 1970s. Despite all that the proclamation of the state of emergency has been viewed as a misuse of Turkey's democratic force. The cover of Der Spiegel is famous and has an essential place in the German media landscape. "Once upon a time there was a democracy" is the front page headline and a Turkish flag fenced-in. Obviously, this idiom is being used to tell a fable, a story that has never been or that occurred a long time ago. In other words, the magazine is suggesting that Turkey abolished its democratic regime a long time ago and that the president is the greatest obstacle in re-establishing it.

Media outlets and their characteristics

Some may argue that the language of half-truths and othering has its roots in Western Turkophobia and orientalism. Even though this cannot be utterly out of the question, there are specific reasons that are more accurate in explaining this phenomenon.

Through labeling and branding the AK Party governments and especially Erdoğan as despotic and unjust, media outlets found the ground to publish news and report without taking any kind of responsibility and employing veritable journalism. After creating a negative image, every warped fact that is compatible with this image is unconditionally accepted by its consumers. Therefore, any kind of opposition against this manifested image is regarded as factual inaccuracy.

Furthermore, media outlets need arresting and incensing news to occupy the media landscape. Firstly, illustrating foreign countries, especially those that are not part of their closest alliances, in their worst guise helps the people of one country preserve their superior view of their own country. For instance, the proclamation of the state of emergency in France was welcomed by German media outlets but Turkey's statement was demonized, even though France has been in a state of emergency for more than six months under and its security threats are much greater than Turkey's.

Secondly, by reporting about crises in foreign countries, media outlets distract attention from internal crises and issues with foreign, far-away problems. The best example for this argument is the fact that the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the largest German national subscription daily newspaper, used Erdoğan's picture and the title "Fear and Power" as their front cover and gave the shooting spree by a right-wing German extremist who murdered 12 civilians, six of them Muslims, only secondary importance.

Various magazines have put Erdoğan on their cover. Süddeutsche Zeitung still had Erdoğan on their front page days after the coup attempt, despite there being a shooting spree in Munich.

German media outlets are following this discourse, which has its foundation in constructed images, to serve their own interests. However, while focusing on their benefits on various scales, they choose to remove themselves from investigative journalism, truth-based reporting and a democratic standpoint. Evidently, they are becoming the voice of the putschists and the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ), which was and is the biggest threat to Turkey's democracy. On July 15, Turkey had to face one of the biggest events in its history, and they criticized it.

* Abdülaziz Ahmet Yaşar is a graduate student in European Studies at the KU Leuven.

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