Turkish online 'revolution' demands end to sexist, racist language in media
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/30/2011 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER
In the age of social media and cyber-communities, 140-character 'tweets' have kicked off a social movement against sexist, racist or homophobic language in the Turkish media, with thousands signing the Defne Revolution's petition demanding change. Coordinators Binnaz Saktanber and Zeynep Erdim talk to the Daily News about how the 'revolution' began and what they hope it will accomplish
When a columnist known mostly for his arrogance and super-sized ego spat out a disrespectful article on the sad passing of a famous TV personality, he did not encounter the usual nonchalance reserved for his toxic column. “She fell on her sword!” wrote Hıncal Uluç, implying that Defne Joy Foster deserved her untimely death for some assumed flirting or maybe more.
The reaction, almost unanimous, was one of fury. The metaphorical sword turned out to be double-edged when a group of people’s rants against Uluç’s column turned into collective action overnight through the social networking and microblogging website Twitter. A number of users began adding the tag “#defnejoy” to their Twitter posts; rapidly joined by others, they made her name become a “trending” (popular) topic.
With the awareness that sexism, racism and homophobia are influenced, and sometimes even manufactured, by the media, the collective Twitter posts transformed into what is now called the Defne Revolution, a petition that has drawn national media attention.
The petition page for the Defne Revolution, Defnedevrimi.com, holds a manifesto that begins with a list of questions, questions that have frustrated more than a few readers, audience members and consumers of media for some time now: “Why hasn’t the media changed at all, when everything else is transforming? Why is it forcing upon us the same old bankrupt discourse one generation after another, full of insults, executions, tirades, harassment and a modernist feudalism? Why does the national media, chronically falling behind the rest of the world and society, get the right to manhandle us so carelessly?”
Who exactly is the national media here and who is to blame? Binnaz Saktanber, prolific blogger, a Ph.D. candidate and one of the coordinators of the initiative, does not go very easy on the members of the Turkish media. “When you take a close look at the media, you will see writers or journalists in every outlet constantly perpetuating racist, sexist and discriminatory language,” Saktanber said. She believes, as do the nearly 8,000 people who have signed the petition on Defnedevrimi.com, that there needs to be “a shared platform urging this language to change. The demands of the Defne Revolution hopefully will be the driver behind that platform.”
[HH] Eliminating the gatekeepers
What are the demands of the Defne Revolution? They are not so complicated: “We demand that the racist, sexist, homophobic and discriminatory media discourse be eliminated. And to anyone who cannot stand the change, we say: Take it or leave it! We demand another media, and we will get it together!” Through collective action, the Defne Revolution hopes to “end the ignorant rhetoric covering all aspects of our lives, the violation of the right to privacy, the severe under-representation of minority voices in the media and journalism and the pigeonholing of women in stereotypical roles.”
The Defne Revolution is a collective action representative of our age, emerging overnight through the 140-character Twitter messages of a handful of people. “We can call it a social media movement,” said Saktanber. The callous, sexist media coverage of Foster’s death became the tipping point for many. “The idea came from Vivet Kanetti. We first added #defnejoy at the end of our tweets to generate some reaction,” said Saktanber. Soon thousands of people joined this simple yet powerful reaction. Then came the idea for the petition.
Journalist and writer Vivet Kanetti is known to many in Turkey for her timeless translations of Goscinny’s “Le Petit Nicolas” children’s book series. When Kanetti, Saktanber and journalist Zeynep Erdim, along with many others from diverse backgrounds, careers and even ideologies, came together around a shared goal, the social media movement skyrocketed. It wasn’t a movement that started with a bunch of elites but one that began through cyber communities.
“Social media is a platform where what’s going on in society, politics and the media is harshly criticized, without any censorship and with urgency,” said Saktanber. Pointing at the role of social media in recent uprisings around the world, she noted the power of social media in fuelling momentum in organizing social movements. “Social media is more democratic. The gatekeepers between the media consumer/reader/audience and media producer/writer/editor are eliminated in social media,” she said. “It enables people with different points of view to share their opinions and understand each other. Ideas circulate freely and quickly.”
[HH] Revealing the real face of the media
The manifesto on the petition page lists some examples from the Turkish media, examples that signatories hope never to read or see “uttered in the media ever again.” Among them are: “Once a favorite for men, now she is so old,” “She lost the struggle to hide her cellulite,” “Half-Armenian pro-Kurdish,” “[Reality star] eliminated from life” and “Are you gay, or are you normal?”
“The sentences we have put in our petition are direct quotes from the Turkish media. These sentences cannot be used in any democratic society,” said Zeynep Erdim, the BBC World Turkey office producer and another coordinator of the initiative. “I can’t imagine reading ‘Armenians’ real faces are revealed’ in The Guardian or other mainstream English media. Replace the ‘Armenians’ with any ethnic minority in the U.K., and imagine what the reaction from society would be.”