Big Turkish Media
and the Iraq War -
By Christine Ogan
Media and the War
When it comes to media
choices for information about the war in Iraq, Turkey is luckier than a lot of
other countries of equal size and equal level of economic development. At least
21 national daily newspapers circulate about four million copies, and a reported
3,500 local daily or weekly newspapers with circulations of between one and fifteen
thousand supplement the national press. Added to that, more than 100 magazines
are published, many of which are Turkish versions of international editions.
Broadcast options are also
numerous. At least 14 privately owned channels that can be viewed nationally exist
alongside five public channels run by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.
Other pay-tv channels are distributed via several cable and satellite services.
As many as 220 local channels have been documented (Colakoglu, http://www.lightmillennium.org/fall/nc_ntv2.html)
Turks are able to watch
the hour-by-hour developments of the war on all-news channels too. NTV, in partnership
with MSNBC, distributes news and public affairs information round the clock that
can be received by about 70 percent of the population. CNN-Turk, a joint venture
between CNN and the Dogan Media Group, is one of only two CNN channels that broadcasts
in a language other than English. Haberturk-TV started out as only an Internet
site that eventually added a news channel to its media operations. Manager Ufuk
Guldemir along with other print journalist-owners of the station represent the
first crossover from print to broadcast in news channels in Turkey. Guldemir started
the web service when he was fired as editor of Sabah, one of the largest circulating
newspapers in Turkey.
Yet for all those media,
the range of different voices from mainstream media about the war heard by the
Turkish people are limited. Concentration of ownership and issues related to media
globalization are as serious in Turkey as anywhere else in the world.
Aydin Dogan is probably
the most serious offender. By his own admission, he controls about 80 percent
of all media in Turkey, yet does not accept that this constitutes a monopoly.
And following the passage of a controversial communications bill in May 2002,
he and other media barons are now free to bid on lucrative government contracts
and to buy up shares of government organizations targeted for privatization-placing
journalists in an increasingly serious conflict of interest position with government.
Media scholars are also
concerned about the media oligarchies, and have commented on that problem as it
plays itself out in war coverage on television. In the April 6 edition of Radikal,
a national daily newspaper, several communication scholars were asked to evaluate
this coverage in the context of the principles of global journalism. Prof. Cuneyt
Akalin from the communication faculty of Marmara University believes that the
television coverage in this war has revealed the true nature of the powerful media.
"Those colorful members of the media who were born in the 1990s hid their relationship
with the United States under the banner of 'contemporary journalism,' 'democracy,'
and 'human rights.'. Neoliberal lies were served morning and night. Lives were
indexed to the stock market." Akalin's comment about the media born in the 1990s
refers to the privately owned television stations that first went on the air via
satellite from Europe in violation of the constitution. Legally operating since
1994, the channels have taken many viewers away from public television (TRT).
Now that these stations have shown their alliance with big business in the war
coverage, "We should be searching for the answer to the question: how are we going
to clean up this incredible filth caused by the media that are the tools of this
unjust war?" Akalin asks.
Hifzi Topuz, author, media
analyst and director of the Communication Research Foundation, said he believes
that the "media generally support their owner's positions, but the people in the
press room do not completely hew to their bosses' views." He added that the owners
tolerate this deviation to show that they are neutral in matters of reporting.
Topuz also praises the journalists who report the truth even in the face of the
incorrect news that appears on other channels.(http://www.radikal.com.tr;
accessed April 8, 2003).
Speaking at a conference
on the media and war at Anadolu University in Eskisehir, Turkey, Orhan Erinc said
the degeneration of journalism can be attributed to a triangle that includes the
media, politics, and business and that the power of this triangle has led journalists
to abandon facts and truth in their war coverage. Erinc, Turkish Journalists'
Association (TGC) chairman, is cited as saying that coverage is now not as bad
as early on in the war when the media were participating in warmongering (http://www.turkishdailynews.com/FrTDN/latest/dom.htm;
accessed April 10, 2003).
of the War and Public Trust
Other scholars have been
critical of television coverage because of its bias, its sensationalizing, and
its shallowness. Most television channels have made extensive use of foreign media
in live and taped coverage of battles, street scenes, prisoners of war and wounded
in hospitals. Fewer correspondents and camera people from any television channel
are reporting from the field, leading to criticisms of the types of coverage .
TGRT was an exception, in that it was able to receive live coverage from Ihlas
Haber Ajansi (IHA, an independent pro-Islamic news agency) which had cameras and
live satellite feeds from Baghdad to TGRT television. NTV, which gets the most
praise for its balanced coverage, relies heavily on video and interviews from
a variety of foreign sources. One minute they will be airing a Sky TV or Fox interview
and the next moving to live coverage from Al Jazeera or Abu Dhabi television.
Sometimes it is difficult to follow which source is being used (except for the
credit given in the corner of the screen). All such footage is dubbed in Turkish
or the video is used as background with voiceovers from the Turkish correspondent
on the scene in Iraq.
When both Arab and Western
sources are alternatively consulted, it may give the viewer a sense of balance
in reporting. NTV also airs commentary by professors with expertise in Middle
Eastern history or political science, or retired military leaders interpret the
field-based interviews or video accordingly. There is reason to believe that some
viewers like this approach to covering the war. The IV.Kuvvet Medya web site (Fourth
Estate Media: Platform for Free Journalists) has been running an online poll asking
which television channel provides the best news about the war in Iraq. By April
11, 1,553 people had registered their votes. About 28 percent of the votes went
to NTV (the third highest number).
However, if the votes
from this self-selected sample means anything, it illustrates that many viewers
may see things somewhat differently than the media critics. Kanal 7, the pro-Islamist
channel, captured 37 percent of the votes, and TGRT-also a religiously conservative
channel-received the most votes (46 percent). TGRT's popularity, however, might
be based on the live Turkish video feed from Baghdad. Though Prof. Unsal Oskay
of Beykent University has said that Kanal 7 does provide an Islamic view on the
events of the war that is not provided by other channels, he noted in the column
he wrote for Radikal newspaper that of all the television broadcasters, only TRT
and NTV could be considered neutral.
It should be noted that
those viewers who had access to digital cable or other master antenna systems
were able to compare coverage by a range of Turkish stations with that of BBC,
Fox, and CNNI.
Setting and War Coverage
In communications research,
many scholars have repeatedly found empirical support for the agenda-setting function
of the media. This concept measures the relationship between the level of importance
the media place on the daily events in the news and the corresponding levels of
significance the consumers of the media attribute to those same topics. It is
said that the media may not tell the people what to think, but certainly tell
them what to think about. If agenda setting is operative in Turkish media, there
should be some relationship between the kind of news and public affairs perspectives
television has offered to Turkish viewers and the salience to viewers. And of
course the war has taken the highest priority for all Turks. But the way the war
has been framed by some of the media does not match with public opinion in the
country. In the week before the war, between March 10 and 17, the Pew Research
Center conducted a face-to-face survey among more than 500 Turks throughout the
nation. The survey addressed a variety of questions related to possibility of
war. In that survey, 86 percent of respondents opposed the war. And the favorable
image of Americans held by 52 percent of Turks in a survey taken in 1999-2000
by the US Department of State had dropped to a mere 12 percent. Pew's survey was
a panel study that asked similar questions of the national sample in November
2002 and again in March of this year. In November Pew's survey found that 30 percent
of the respondents had a favorable view of the United States. When asked about
US motives for going to war with Iraq, only 34 percent in November and 22 percent
in March said that they believed that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was the
motive. Many more people (53 percent in November and 60 percent in March) said
that the purpose was to wage war on Muslim nations (http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=175).
Other surveys taken before the war began have reported opposition to the war as
high as 94 percent.
Clearly there seems to
be a disconnect between the views of the public and the views of some of the televised
media, which would suggest that the views of the media that express pro-war commentary
or coverage are not publicly accepted. But most of the criticism of the television
channels that hype the war has been confined to several of the popular privately
owned channels (and also to the print press owned by the same media barons) as
well as to CNN-Turk. The public TRT channels have been described in more positive
terms. Words like balanced, neutral, objective, and cautious have been used to
describe the points of view aired on these channels. Nurcay Turkoglu, professor
at Marmara University, had special praise for one of the public channels. "TRT2
also has eminently watchable broadcasts with its carefully balanced distribution
of various news sources, many guests, and background information that includes
historical and cultural dimensions," she said (http://www.radikal.com.tr;
accessed April 8, 2002).
The public channels have
also made extensive use of retired generals to provide analyses of military strategy.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney recently described those people as the retired
military officers "embedded in TV studios" in a reference to a similar phenomenon
in the United States. Nonetheless, these individuals provide an experienced perspective
on the progress of the conflict, though as Haluk Sahin has pointed out, they "share
the 'fog of war' that blinds the American public, perhaps because they were educated
and trained in the United States." (http://www.radikal.com.tr;
accessed April 8, 2003). According to Sahin, though the generals may have been
pleased with the role they played, they were criticized for not having sufficient
understanding of Tommy Franks-style modern warfare.
and War Coverage
The Kurdish minority in
Turkey, constituting about 10 to 12 million in number, has special concerns about
the outcome of the war in Iraq. And the Turkish government has great fears concerning
the possibility of an autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Though assured by
the US government that this will not happen, Turkish military and government officials
are wary and have amassed about 40,000 troops along the Iraqi border in the event
that the Kurds take over the region. When the Kurds took Kirkuk, the Los Angeles
Times reported that Turkish television broadcast scenes showing jubilant Kurds
and fearful Turcoman (numbering about 200,000 and whom Turkey has pledged to defend)
in the city. The reports expressed fear that because Kurds entered the court house
and destroyed land records, they would want to expel the Turcoman from Kirkuk
(The Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2003, p. 10). The Turcoman people are ethnically
related to the Turks.
The Kurdish population
watches the same televised coverage of the battles in northern Iraq with their
own sets of fears. But they also have access to other media, principally the satellite
channel, Medya TV, based in Paris. Some sources have estimated that as many as
80-90 percent of Kurdish households in Turkey have access to Medya TV. Other Kurdish
language stations are based in northern Iraq and are likely available to, at least,
those Kurds who live in the southeastern part of Turkey. Though television broadcasting
in Kurdish has been legal in Turkey since November 2002, the structure for getting
programs on the air has not yet been specified.
Hope for the Future On
balance, Turkish broadcasters got less than high marks for their war coverage,
with the exception of one all-news channel and the publicly-owned channel (TRT).
However, there was likely more diversity of coverage than in the United States,
as viewers could choose among Islamic viewpoints, the U.S.-based channels and
opinions, coverage by Turkish reporters in the field, and also get the European
perspective. In the conference on media and war that was held at Anadolu University,
speakers discussed ways to make the media more responsible and more reflective
in their coverage. Perhaps the best recommendation for the future was made at
this conference by those who suggested that the country needs a much stronger
alternative press and an independent regional press to show the established press
the way journalism should be practiced. The Internet-based news sites begin to
offer that kind of information. Financing independent broadcast media will be
a challenge, but it may be the best hope for Turkey's media.
My thanks for assistance
on this article go to Mehmet Ozturk, Haluk Sahin, Ulke Aren, and Erkan Yuksel.
Any errors in content, however, are strictly my own. TBS
Christine Ogan is professor
of Journalism and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the School
of Informatics at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. She has published
widely on communication issues related to Turkey and is author of Communication
and Identity: Turkish Migrants in Amsterdam and their Use of the Media.