What does Turkey’s State of Emergency mean for civilians? aka calm down

Turkey’s President Erdogan just declared a 3 month State of Emergency. So what does it actually mean? Key points/summary below. For a more detailed version, see the source here 

  1. The State of Emergency cannot exceed 6 months
  2. It can be extended by 4 months at a time, each time by approval of parliament
  3. Decrees (ie law) issued under state cannot be contested as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court (to put another way the Constitutional Court cannot question constitutionality of decrees declared under State of Emergency – it is not a time of civilian rule so rules suspended).
  4. Martial law can be enacted during period of state of emergency (can also exist exclusively depending under which Article emergency invoked- Articles 119 or 120 – check again the link above)
  5. Fundamental rights may be partially/entirely suspended (which is almost identical to Article 15 of European Convention of Human Rights)
  6. Important: no one can be held guilty until so proven by court judgement (meaning there are protective civil liberty elements within the Constitutions Article 15)
  7. However under State of Emergency, fundamental rights are not under the control of the judiciary (ie, again there is a parliamentary check on this)
  8. There cannot be amendments made to law during a State of Emergency, these can only be made after end of the State of Emergency per regular parliamentary procedure (ie Parliament has to approve).

Interpretation: While on surface this may appear alarming there are robust checks under the State of Emergency to protect civil liberties. Also, there was a 15 year state of emergency between 1987-2002 in some parts of Turkey, so this has occurred in recent memory. The ‘shock’ comes from evaluating Turkish democratic standards with those of a developed Western liberal democracy and the freedoms that entails. Turkey is still considered a developing country in some respects, and it is not Western, but it is also not to be equated with various Middle Eastern regimes permeated by military or dynastic rule. Some angst comes from the panic that it will defer to the latter, particularly when considering Turkey has made resounding economic, democratic and human developed leaps in the past decade to distinguish itself from undemocratic, undeveloped regimes/areas. Concerns remain in other areas namely freedom of assembly, press and the economic slowdown not just from the past days but recent years.

What we do not yet know/questions:

  • Will there be curfews? We don’t know, it hasn’t been announced
  • Didn’t they sack all the judges? No, 2745 judges have been removed (as of 2013 there were over 12,000 judges in Turkey and incidentally more than half were women).
  • Are you scared? No, but concerned. These measures can be enacted during a natural disaster or economic crisis (Article 119) or during widespread acts of violence and serious deterioration of public order (Article 120). Concern comes from the status quo being living under a non state of emergency. The status quo would be to be living under regular civilian law. What it means beyond today’s announcement is uncertain. Follow me on Twitter for regular updates.

The Turkish Elections Media Coverage Cheat Sheet

All male pontificating panels, copy paste templates and graphics, no sign of swing votes or interviews with candidates, citizen or other stories. It can only mean one thing: Turkish election coverage.

All male election panels at CNN Turk and NTV

All male election panels at CNN Turk and NTV

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 17.44.08

I’m part of the demographic which gets my news primarily from social media (with the FT Weekend, and Monocle magazine notable exceptions). However, with the failure of the Turkey’s ruling AK (justice and development) party to form a coalition government after the June parliamentary elections, a second round was held on November 1st. However when you watch Turkish mainstream media election coverage, ie. TV, there are a few things missing – this by the way has nothing to do with any kind of Turkish media clampdown. It simply appears to be in the lowest common denominator type of coverage that networks seem to go for.

TRT World is the new kid on the block – they’re the new English language channel from the state broadcast although checking in for a few hours, their livestream appears to be down. 

I was expecting some livestream coverage on Al Jazeera Turk – now an entirely online operation. The timing is perfect for them to be doing some live coverage (eg. on YouTube or on site) particularly as none of the other main broadcasters seem to be carrying a live feed on the social platforms where you’ll find Turkey’s largely under 30 population. (Nothing live on Facebook for any of these broadcasters either)

So, while dipping in and out of various Turkish media outlets, here’s a quick cheat sheet for the things missing that should be included in any future election to do list.

Women: are there really no female Turkish political commentators available? (Hint, I’m available and have a list of other Turkish female politicos who would be happy to contribute too). Isn’t media supposed to represent the populace (as are elected officials?) particularly when the population is half female and half male? 

Include the swing: While we see the aggregate results (the percentage of the vote and number of seats won in parliament), we don’t see the swings. All we hear is speculation on why there are swings. Lets see where the votes and see have been gained and lost then get into the analysis, preferably with an expert from the region. Although not including the swing, Al Jazeera Turk did show the June results alongside.

Al Jazeera Turk showing the June 7 results below the November 1st election returns. Not a swing, but its a start.

Interviews. No interviews with candidates, whether victorious or not, no pieces pieces on voting day.

All we see are victory speeches. Why is there any coverage of the consolation speeches? No exit interviews or coverage of the many grass root efforts such as Oy ve Otesi – an organisation mobilising election monitoring and encouraging people to vote

Other election stories of interest. If you skim social media however there are many many stories of people voting in difficult circumstances – for instance elderly, people in ill health taking an ambulance to go vote. There are no pre prepared pieces of election expectations, voter turn out, voting issues etc. Again, social media is faster on this demonstrating that their is no shortage of election related content.

Broadcast live on social platforms With all the fuss made about the blocking of social platforms, why wouldn’t broadcasters use this to their advantage. There were no livestreams on Facebook or YouTube for any of the major broadcasters. This isn’t that surprising as if you have a look at campaigning and media in Turkey, it still is out of touch in the respect that it is still seen as a cute add on rather than as a faster growing media outlet. Not convinced? Check out this essay Damian Radcliffe and I put together for the Reuters Insitute on how Turkey uses social media

Look for the grey area

Its difficult not to take sides on what’s going on in Turkey. For me, it’s not about picking the sides of protestors or politics. It’s about solutions, and for that to happen you don’t have to be aligned with one side or another. But you do have to listen to and understand both. I have plenty of friends who have taken part in the demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul (including two media friends who were assaulted by police) and equally know those within the government as well as their supporters. Yet, I won’t take sides because for me, the most important area is the grey one. The grey area is the space between right and wrong, between yes and no which is going to lead to a solution. Picking sides merely prolongs the status quo, it also unnecessarily personalises the issue. Are you democrat or authoritarian? Are you Islamist or secularist?.. and so on. These are moot points which simply divides. This is why on Saturday (22 June), when protestors went with their carnations to Taksim, only again to be dispersed by water cannons and tear gas, I asked what is the objective of the protestors now, and why, if police want to end the confrontations, do they not just cordon off the square in the name of limiting disruption to public order? Rather than letting emotion prevail, lets look for some reason and rationality to move beyond sentiment and towards some tangible solutions.

Protests: Not Turkey-wide. Click to see larger version. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22859959

In the meantime I collect information from people on the ground, monitor foreign press particularly and the narratives they give and offer my two cents especially because there is much misunderstanding and misinformation. One would be forgiven for thinking that protests encompassed all over Turkey, that it was too dangerous to travel there and that 70% of cancelled reservations and empty hotel rooms verified the seriousness of the situation. What was missing from much reporting was context. The protests in Istanbul and Ankara – the two largest cities with ongoing demonstrations, and the ones I am very familiar with were limited to just a number of streets. What was also absent on social media feeds during were counts: how many people were in the streets, versus, for instance the protests in Brazil where numbers have more reliably accompanied reporting. See Gabriel Elizondo for more. By broadcasting images showing crowds and clashes, without quantifying the situation it is very easy to think this was the general Turkish landscape. Turkey’s population is 76 million and Istanbul’s roads number 25,000km worth. The protests took place in under a 10km Istanbul radius. The BBC had a nice little map showing just limited the space was in the context of a city of 17 million people and yet I still receive regular messages and concerns of whether what is happening is throughout Turkey in its entirety. My primary news source since the second week of protests, has been Twitter – either media folks who are reliable, and my own contacts. Facebook is Turkey’s primary social media platform. Much organisation, action, and testimony has been collated there. When I see or read something, I can verify it quickly by getting in touch with whoever posted it, asking them where it came from and then for the original image. Reputation and reliability is not difficult to build (which is also why personal contacts and connections with communities is the at the heart of any citizen journalism efforts).

Image via @FatmaKilicaslan

Barricades in one of Istanbul’s well to do areas. Image via @FatmaKilicaslan

Still, it does get personal. When I see the streets I walked every day to and from work with barricades put up, when I see the windows and shutters of my neighbourhood grocer, bank, the cart of the simit (bread ring) seller smashed and graffitied, when the store owners I know are not able to open their doors or suffer while working because of the tear gas, when I see clouds of tear gas on the street I lived on, of course it gets personal. But blaming one side or the other without proposing a solution or understanding all sides won’t get you anywhere.

Where to start? The first thing for those outside of Turkey or not familiar with the context is to pay attention to how things are being reported: take away the emotive language, look for verified numbers, and also look at what both sides are saying. Then make your assessment.

1. What does emotive language look like?

Its anything that can’t be measured, for instance: massive, oppressive, accused, could do this or that. These should all be red flags.

2. Look for verified numbers

Go for reliable sources and even better see if a second source says the same thing. For instance “economic fallout” doesn’t tell you much but “a drop of 17% according to the tourism and hotels union” (with a date attached is even better). Anything else is just sloppy journalism and remember reporting is a process, there are editors, producers and entire chains of command until an article or report reaches the viewer. One Turkish newspaper didn’t stop to double-check whether a major political figure had actually died before sending a Twitter update out and if major media continue to make basic spelling and grammar mistakes, you should already be on the back foot when consuming news.

3. Look at both sides

Image via @BusraAkin

Image via @BusraAkin

It’s very easy to take sides on whats happening and dismiss the other.  Both sides have considerable numbers, both sides can paint the other as irrational, irrelevant and the one to be overcome. Now there are some  government representatives who have been explaining what has been happening in layman’s terms. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and advisor to the Prime Minister Ibrahim Kalin are two. They contextualise events and compare to similar circumstances elsewhere. This gives perspective. Other government rhetoric, rather than grandstanding and accusing needs to acknowledge and keep things simple. Most of the world does not know about Turkey’s political, social or economic history. They only see the here and now. Making an issue accessible doesn’t just inform, it also brings understanding.

Image via @emresano

Image via @emresano

Blaming and restatement of grievances will win you support within your own circles, but won’t bring solutions nor will move democracy forward. Remember, democracy is not a static concept, it’s a continual work in progress and for it to work, it needs participation – by voting, or protesting, or being informed and being discerning. Its only by exploring that grey area with clear objectives and rational dialogue that progress stands any chance.

All quiet on the Rumelian and Anatolian fronts?

Starting during the day and continuing into the wee hours of Wednesday (June 12) morning, police disbursed the thousands of protestors who had gathered at Taksim square and Gezi park in the fortnight long series of gatherings which began as an effort to stop the removal of trees and has morphed into a public show of  opposition. Today (12 June 2013), Prime Minister Erdogan is due to meet with representatives of those who have been protesting. Dialogue is a good thing, but dialogue with an outcome is even better. So what options are on the table? Demonstrators have a few, stated last week: that plans to reconstruct the park be stopped, that police use of force be held to account and that tear gas be banned.

The 11 or so representatives (at writing) had not  yet been identified by the media. Who do they represent and have these demands changed? What are the demands of the government? With the lack of clear, enunciated objectives, what will be that middle ground, what will be the fruits of these demonstrations?

In chants, graffiti and memes in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere, calls for the Prime Minister to resign, and even the government to step down are unrealistic. Prime Minister Erdogan has come to power on a majority, popular vote. He has also done this by increasing the share of the vote in each subsequent election. That means there is a majority in the country who support him. However there are his supporters who are also critical of the way these protests have been handled. Crowds have come onto the street as an affront to police use of force, but remember the saying “violence begets violence”? All it takes is a few bad apples, a few provocateurs to start throwing stones, Molotov’s and the like for police to not respond in kind, but overwhelmingly. When that happens, more defiant crowds emerge, until one side wears down, coalesces or a middle ground is reached. That doesn’t seem to be happening on either side. Protestors may have the numbers but police have the dispersants. Its not an even match whichever way you look at it. The resistant crowd is labelled as violent, troublesome and must be stopped at any cost. The police are just doing their job, it can be argued, in a country where many in those ranks have little options available, where even standing down creates serious moral and livelihood ambiguity. I have previously written that Turkey is a country of polar opposites. There is hardly a middle ground – whether in sport, politics or even media.

In Istanbul last night, a massive disbursement of tear gas and water cannons cleared protesters, and the public space. This was all, apparently without any repeated, audible or clear goals for the crowds to do so. The only announcement it seemed was from Istanbul’s Governor, sending messages over Twitter. The result of this was to effectively remove the possibility for people to congregate. Barriers were removed and ‘order’ restored. The Taksim underground stop is functioning again and after almost two weeks, municipality buses are returning to the square. Cars are trickling into what is one of the busiest spots in Istanbul and indeed, Turkey.

Where do the protests go from here? The second obvious destination of protest is the Prime Ministers offices in Istanbul – these are down the hill from Taksim. In the early nights of the clashes this was a scene of tense police-protestor standoff. After a construction vehicle was used as a shield to approach the building, police would have taken the necessary steps to limit gatherings and disruption and secure the safety of this space. This is what the clearing Taksim tactic is also about: removing a focus and mobilisation point, forcing a return to ordinary life by clean ups and traffic returns. At writing, there were attempts to also nudge out the peaceful protestors who had been living (or occupying) Gezi park, again to diffuse mobilisation. Ankara is facing the same. Campers in Kugulu park, which has been the assembly point before marching down to Kizilay, were standing off between occupying the space and police removal.

Kizilay, Ankara

The past few days in Gezi park have been a communal peaceful gathering. Provocateurs have been identified, outed and confrontations subdued. Commentary about the park was hopeful: there was yoga in the park, a bookshop set up, triage tents, facilities and the like. Although tear gas from the perimeters and police moving in caused disruption, protesters were there again today, repairing, resisting. It is important to remember that there is not one group claiming responsibility for the protests or for their organisation. This has been a largely organic movement with people from all walks of life beginning with students, lawyers, celebrities and even government workers (who inducted a 2 day strike last week), who have all come out against the heavy handedness of the police (which has been acknowledged and apologised for by President Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Arinc), and lack of reconciliation between protestors objectives and outcomes.

A new Ottomanism? No.

Hopefully, most mainstream media should have picked up that the protests in Turkey are not a “Turkish Spring” – in other words, they are not similar to the movements leading to the topple of various Arab regimes by mass popular protest in 2011. There are too many social and political differences to draw parallels. One nagging reference that is used incorrectly is correlating Erdogan and his government in some exercise in rekindling “Ottomanism”. The Ottoman Empire spanned some 600 years. It prefaced today’s conception of nation states and like every global power had high and low points. The apex of the empire was in the 16th century under the reign of Sultan Suleyman, whose rule was marked not just by expansion, military prowess and state patronage of arts, but also by justice. What ebbed at the empire and contributed in its decline were economic dependency on the West, growing corruption, weakened military and the growth of nationalism which fractured the concept of allegiance to the Sultan, and to the Empire. Comparing Erdogan to various Sultans are as accurate as comparing oneself to tracing ones family genealogy and identifying character traits. Turkey’s foreign policy of engaging with the immediate neighbourhood: Arab states, the Balkans and the like are not out of international relations order. They are pragmatic.

No one stop democracy shop

Turkey is a democracy in the region, one that has been referred to time and again as the example to be looked up to in the blending of the accommodation of religion within a secular political context. But we should also remember that democracy is an ongoing process and there are variations within it. It is incorrect to assume that Turkey is a democracy to the same degree as developed Western societies. Turkey is still classified as a middle income developing country, which means that as it grows, it will continue to have growing pains. Does this justify media censorship or use of force however? Does media coverage equate to inciting violence? Do citizens updating social media in a media void of covering events relate to incendiary speech? Does civil disobedience represent  legitimate democratic displays or are they nuisances to be dealt with by the law? In the days, weeks and months that follow, it is that very dialogue between diverse actors that will find the answers to these questions. A democracy develops when opposing voices are able to come to together to develop negotiated outcomes. Democracy falters when everyone simply starts nodding, not questioning or discussing. There are preconditions for this also. Elections, when fair, with high voter turnout are the most efficient democratic display. But to address all the underlying questions, critical education, broad dialogue and development are also key. Not all these preconditions could be said to be met yet in Turkey. That’s why Turkey is still a candidate EU country – it is on track to fulfilling criteria, its not quite there yet.

What happens now

IMG_2948Although all looks calm at writing, there is one key date that the government will likely want demonstrations to settle by, and that is July 8. That date marks the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, which moves up by one month every year, as is based on the lunar calendar. This month is not simply a time from abstaining from food and drink between sunrise and sunset, but it is a time of deep spiritual reflection, a time to mend interpersonal wounds, and definitely not a time to use force against protestors. Doing so would create a serious moral predicament for the government. Why does this matter? While some Western media still display traces of naming and analysing the demonstrations as Islamism versus secularism or authoritarianism against democracy, remember that a majority of the population voted in the government and approves of the Prime Ministers rule. However this base does risk alienation if innocents are targeted or affected by ongoing violence. It is erroneous to classify all protestors as societal miscreants or deviants. The group is too big and diverse for that. Those who were apathetic or apolitical to protests have also been drawn in. Think of these cases: store owners and workers who have had their premises damaged, had to close due to safety risks and have serious threats to income considering Turkey is just entering peak annual tourist season. Think of the neighbourhoods. Major Turkish cities are population dense – that means within tens of metres of key protests points lie apartment buildings. People not able to enter or leave their homes easily and are subject to tear gas and if not that, the noise which lingers into the wee hours of every morning for the past 2 weeks. These people are unwitting bystanders, and fairly, would be expected to be drawn into or at least have an opinion of what’s going on.

Hopes of solidarity, a coming of age moment especially in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 are being quickly dashed. But we can also see why. One role of the government is to maintain social order. Sure, the converse is citizens have a right to freedom of assembly and protest, though not a right to cause public destruction. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario. Is public damage a consequence of police use of force? Or is it the ammunition for it? The sound of chirping birds have replaced the mass chants in Taksim on live streams. As storm clouds gather on Istanbul, only time will tell whether this peace, albeit imposed will hold.

‘Social media needs to put the person at the heart of the story’

This article originally appeared on Journalism.co.uk and is re-posted from there. 

Image by jared on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak at the annual Polis journalism conference at the London School of Economics.

I was asked to share on my experiences while at the social media team at Al Jazeera. When you hear “social media,” “journalism” or “media,” usually a few things continue to dominate the conservation:

  • Was (the Egypt Revolution) a social media revolution? (Yes this is still debated two years after the fact.)
  • What tools do and should journalists use?
  • How do you verify social media sources?
  • How do media companies regulate staff use of Twitter and other platforms?

Remarkably little is said of how social media is actually put into practice, besides analytics.

As well as dealing with the above questions, the social media team at Al Jazeera engages their viewing (and non viewing) audience with campaigns around various media issues. Non-viewing here refers to an audience that does not necessarily watch Al Jazeera due to broadcast limitations.

With the theme of the conference being ‘Trust in Journalism’ I decided to use three cases: ‘Uganda Speaks,’ ‘Libya Speaks,’ and ‘Gaza Voices’ to show how trust plays a role in how audiences contribute and that social media is premised by offline communities, and simply, by being social.

Uganda Speaks

In response to the Kony2012 campaign by the group Invisible Children to bring Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) to justice, the team decided to see what Ugandans in the north of the country – an area where the LRA and Kony had operated – thought of the campaign.

An easy mistake to make in social and mobile media is the assumption of equal access – that if you have a smartphone, everyone else does and is as connected. But in Northern Uganda where this is not a reality, how do you obtain local voices when internet or 3G connectivity is not an option?

Here the team contacted local radio stations to broadcast a call for opinions by phone or sent via SMS to local numbers, as well as a Qatari number for Ugandan expats to also voice their opinions. These responses were verified, filtered (for abuse, duplication and so on) and plotted on a simple Ushahidi map. The results appeared on the Al Jazeera web page.

Libya Speaks

The second instance was #LibyaSpeaks. Following the topple of Muammar Gaddafi and his regime, Libyan elections were held with great anticipation.

For this instance, FlipCams were distributed to willing participants in Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli. Participants were identified as being active online, as bloggers, activists and the like, and cameras were distributed via Al Jazeera staff travelling to Libya to cover the elections.

Each participant was asked to record and upload one minute length videos asking Libyans would they vote in the election and what their expectations were of the elections.

Poor internet connectivity and limited bandwidth meant that videos were not able to be received and processed in time for the feature page for the elections, although they were taken up on Al Jazeera’s user-generated content platform, Sharek (meaning to share/participate).

However there was a plan B. As in the Uganda case, local lines were set up where Libyans could call or SMS their responses. Again these were plotted on an interactive map, with in-house staff providing translation.

Gaza Voices

The last campaign of 2012 centred around the Israeli operation “Pillar of Defense” on Gaza. Again, an interactive map featured responses and prominent voices on Twitter, from both sides.

For this instance (a breaking, high intensity news event), there was also a call for local voices – both Palestinian and Israeli, to speak to new media staff and record their testimony. These ranged from calls with bombing audible in the background to citizens in Tel Aviv describing some disruption to their everyday lives but not being under any direct threat or danger. The calls were recorded and featured on a Soundcloud playlist in raw form.

Two things struck me from the audience response during and after the presentation. The first is how little the public at large, as well as fellow media organisations, knew about these activities.

Senior news folks still need to be convinced of the merits of the social world in allying risks of mis-news, misinformation and liability


Secondly, even within media circles the discussion of how to use social dominates how social is actually and actively used. The premise of social media is that to have an online presence you need an offline presence.

It is not enough to have a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube account, to include hashtags and handles and track analytics, if you don’t have the people.

Aren’t people what are at the heart of news stories and the communities that come together and enable social platforms?

I do think that those working in social media today still constitute a bridge – the media generation to come will have grown up with social and digital media as second nature while at the other end senior news folks still need to be convinced of the merits of the social world in allying risks of mis-news, misinformation and liability.

The success of people working in this field presently will be in their redundancy. When we can step back and see our present efforts – building campaigns, strategies and training staff  as second nature in newsrooms – as inherent, it will be time to move on. By then we will have hopefully graduated to building more innovative ideas in media and looking at the next big social and digital things.

Where then does trust fit into this conversation? Trust in journalism is built on elements such as reputation, representation, content and relationships.

If you are in media and want to tap into the ‘wisdom of crowds,’ this is not going to happen if you only run to your sources when there is a breaking news event

If you are in media and want to tap into the ‘wisdom of crowds,’ this is not going to happen if you only run to your sources when there is a breaking news event.

It is in taking the time, in building those offline communities and relationships, not because of your brand but because of the reputation that you genuinely care about the people behind the news story and as such are exercising your responsibility to extend the journalism platform, the (proverbial) microphone to them.

Your audience then not only becomes loyal, but also your advocate and is more willing to forgive you when mistakes are made.

If you want to be in social media, you’ve got to be social. Perhaps then it’s less the technological savvy but the human-social traits that should be looked for when bringing the social to media.

*The slides and links from this piece are available on Slideshare