Ban on Turkish dramas in the Gulf backfires: Researcher
Nalan Koçak - ISTANBUL
The ban on Turkish soap operas in the Arab world has backfired as the audience learns Turkish to watch from the websites of the Turkish channels, Miriam Berg, an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, has told Hürriyet Daily News.
Last March, the Dubai-based MBC Group, the Middle East and North Africa’s largest private broadcaster, pulled the plug on Turkish soap operas. The ban came amid a rift between Turkey and some Gulf countries as Ankara backed Qatar in a blockade imposed by them.
According to Berg, who studies the influence of Turkish media in foreign markets, the main target of the ban was to hinder Turkey from using its soft power to create a positive image of its culture in the Arab world. “As the shows are no longer aired on Arab televisions in the region, Turkey is constrained to reach Arab households through these traditional broadcast platforms.”
But a deep current of Turkish cultural products has emerged in reaction to the ban, Berg told the Daily News in a Skype interview.
“The audience has started to watch Turkish dramas online with English subtitles or Arabic subtitles if they can find. But most of them visit websites of Turkish channels to watch the content in the original language. Many from my research group stated that they enjoy the latter because they learn Turkish,” said Berg.
In her latest research Berg delved into fan pages in Arabic, selecting a sample of 300 between the ages of 18 to 50 and conducted online surveys over the last couple of months as the political landscape did not let her do it face-to-face.
‘Arabs think the ban is unjust’
According to Berg, the ban on Turkish soap operas, which was put in place to eradicate Ankara’s soft power, has backfired. “Irrespective of the country of origin, Arabs still feel very positive about Turkey. Actually the opinion has shifted from positive to very positive. It’s so positive that many of the Arabs think it is unjust to ban these shows as entertainment and politics should not be confused,” Berg stressed.
“Shows have nourished a familiarity with Turkey and its culture no other diplomatic incentive could have created. The number of not only Arab visitors to Turkey but who buy property there proves that,” said Berg.
Berg thinks that her research is a good proof that there is a clear market for an online channel should Turkey’s national broadcaster or any of the private networks look to providing Turkish content in Arabic. “With frost relations with some of the Gulf monarchies, Turkey can be left with less soft power resources to maintain its appeal which it has so successfully established in less than a decade. Turkey should make use of this big demand,” she said.
In a previous research conducted last year she worked with a focus group of students in Qatar and probed the question of “why Turkish dramas are so striking for the Arab audience?”
“People like the concept of love marriage in those dramas. And there is a cultural balance in which the modern and conservative are intertwined. For example, societal issues are discussed in a liberal way but still soft in a conservative manner. They underline what is ‘haram’ [forbidden] in Islam, but at the end of the story the plot underlines something is not acceptable, but that this is human life. The idea of a modern liberal Muslim country catches them,” she said.