The referendum and journalism in Turkey
The pre-referendum period was particularly informative with regard to the state of journalism in Turkey, with widespread violations of ethical principles and with partisan journalism intertwined with politics.
During crucial decision-making periods for societies, such as referendums, journalists should perform the function of informing the people. Unfortunately, a large portion of the Turkish media, instead of informing people, opted to undertake the duty of simply reflecting the ruling party’s discourse. “Partisan journalism” was on widespread display.
Many stories should have been more impartial regarding the “Yes” and “No” options. Both sides should have been served equally. However, the “Yes” opinion dominated many news stories, with the discourse of politicians supporting this option covering the largest portion of news pages and TV shows. The media became a tool for bombarding society with the “Yes” option.
Certainly there is no ethnical harm in writers expressing their opinions either in the direction of “Yes” or “No.” However, while individual “Yes-supporting” writers had no problem expressing their views, many “No-supporting” writers had to resort to indirect expressions.
Journalism should be critical and questioning during all campaign periods. But during this referendum the critical and questioning approach was used overwhelmingly against opposition parties rather than the political authorities. As a result, stories where the true and false blended together were printed and broadcast in many media outlets.
There is a whole other set of questions to be asked in terms of opinion polling. To prevent public polls from being used to manipulate society, information such as the name of the company that carried out the poll, when it was conducted, for whom it was conducted, how it was funded, the number of people questioned, and the method used should be openly stated in news stories. Unfortunately, before the recent referendum several stories about polls were published lacking basic data such as the research method, the source of the funding and the number of interviewees.
The journalism mindset displayed during this period, interwoven with political power groups, will only have negative consequences in terms of democracy and the media.
Flattering and normalizing
The appearance of Turkish construction tycoon Ali Ağaoğlu in a recent BBC documentary stirred controversy. One of the things he said that raised eyebrows was his claim that he “told the queen of Kuwait to f*ck off.”
One of the first things that journalists hearing these words should have thought was the question: “Is there even a queen in Kuwait?”
But we long ago forgot to approach any spoken word with skepticism, so Ağaoğlu’s words were accepted at face value.
In fact, Kuwait is not even a kingdom, it is an emirate. Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah IV Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah’s wife Sheikha Fitooh died in 1990 and the emir did not re-marry.
So Ağaoğlu was talking about a non-existent queen. He later apologized to Kuwait, but we still don’t know who he was initially referring to.
Most of the time his words and acts are printed and broadcast with few questions asked. But he was also condemned for referring in the BBC documentary to women as “my property.”
Hürriyet columnist Melike Karakartal wrote against the “normalization” of Ağaoğlu’s lifestyle, saying the tabloid press in Turkey had “normalized” his attitude to his wives and girlfriends.
Another columnist drew attention to the fact that Turkish society, which often has little tolerance for university students hanging around together, and which considers boyfriend-girlfriend relationships to be “immoral,” somehow has a “huge amount of tolerance for certain crème de la crème segment such as Ağaoğlu.” They are allowed to live together without an official wedding, “they can have as many babies as they want with them, and it is considered their private life. They are flattered from all sides,” she wrote.
It is certainly not enough to just criticize Ağaoğlu. The media should also take a look at itself. Now is the time for self-criticism.