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

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There is an emotion beyond sadness, beyond anger, beyond hope.

This past weekend, a quick trip to Istanbul meant light travelling – hand luggage would do. But with 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and an approaching winter, I wanted to use my baggage allowance instead to take some donations and that if I had an overwhelming response, I’d ask Turkish airlines to transport it in kind (Turkish airlines has previously volunteered to fly cargo collected for refugees). 

Working some years ago for UNICEF, I have a fairly good idea of how humanitarian missions work, and also where donations go. Usually an organization will make an administrative cut – between 10-25%. Then, they will purchase new supplies or pay staff to provide some degree of service. This is why a lot of organisations ask for money, while others are prepared to accept clothes, medicine, food and other supplies which they will distribute and use any financial donations to meet operational costs. That’s what I was looking for – a local group working directly with refugees, where supplies would get to whoever needed it, as quickly as possible.

There is an emotion beyond anything I’ve experienced when I walked into the room in Istanbul’s Fatih district of a small local organization. On the faces of the Syrians there – no sadness, no anger, no hope. Just faces of emptiness. There is nothing that prepares you for meeting the faces of those who are suffering. I don’t know how those working or volunteering there can find the reserve to work in a place with so many stories that may never have a happy ending, and to continue to do so day after day.

There was an elderly lady in a wheelchair, you could see her lifetime was limited. She could have been in Syria, enjoying her end of days, but instead she was alone in a grey, cold, rainy Istanbul, in a centre with makeshift medical facilities, surrounded by other strangers with that same expression of nothing. They are supposed to be the luckier ones.

When you sit in London, and you’re in the news, you know what’s going on. You know the facts. You know the numbers, you see the pictures and sometimes you hear personal stories, like this. Days earlier I erred on the side of caution to keep a jacket that I ‘might’ wear. That doesn’t matter anymore when huge injustices create so many without. To paraphrase a recent quote, whatever material things you may have, use it, share it, and by doing that you share yourself, you share your humanity that in our intermittent world of short attention spans, status updates and Instagram posts, is just as fleeting.  

Why is Turkey reluctant to intervene against IS?

Why won’t Turkey intervene against Islamic State (IS). The answer is always more complex than apparent.

  1. Religion. Turkey is reluctant to participate in any operation that will result in the death of Muslims, itself being a Muslim majority country. Although this may not be said outright but deference made to treaties, a policy of non-intervention, neutrality, it also explains why the Turkish parliament sided with public opinion before the US led military invasion in Iraq in 2003 and did not participate. This is nothing new, and looking back to Turkey’s Ottoman history, any military operation involving attack against Muslims required justification (in other words the issuance of a religious edict (fatwa) which is what happened during Ottoman times to justify against (Shiite) Muslims, the Safavids.
  2. Infrastructure Turkey is already hosting over 800,000 Syrians who have fled across the border. To host refugees, countries need to be at a certain level of development. Turkey is still considered a developing country, which means that although it is providing for this guest population, it does require resource and commitment from elsewhere. Problems have already commenced in Turkey with local resentment of the population is some areas, and the presence of more Syrian beggars in population centres.
  3. The Kurdish issue. The majority of the population freeing Kobane, the border down which ISIS is pressing on, is Kurdish. One fifth of Turkey’s 75 million population is Kurdish. Turkey experienced a prolonged internal conflict with the internationally recognized terror organization, the PKK (Kurdistan workers party). The seeming recent reluctance to accept the fleeing Kobane population has been perceived as double standards and reluctance to open the doors to Kurds. This is what led to protests on the evening of 7th of October including a curfew in 5 Kurdish majority cities in south eastern Turkey: Diyarbakır, Batman, Muş, Siirt, Mardin and Van and resulting in 12 deaths.
  4. Internal security threat. ISIS recruitment is happening in Turkey’s capital according to this New York Times article. Could attacking ISIS therefore awaken internal sympathy towards them within Turkey?
  5. NATO Article 5. There are already coalition airstrikes taking place on Kobane, which as of Thursday 8 October, seems to have stymied the IS advance. However, should IS advance and attack Turkey, this would invoke NATO’s article 5; that an attack on one member state, is considered an attack on all, invoking article 5.
  6. Anti government sentiment. While the ruling AKP government led by now President Erdogan has increased its proportion of the vote in 4 subsequent elections, there is a sizeable population who are anti-government and anti-Erdogan. This was born out during the Gezi protests in May-June 2013, and a number of other instances which have given rise to anti government protest and expression. While this is not the most important issue of the lot, it does subject government behaviour to criticism, and lack of a unified public support to potential internal and external security threats.

Protests in Turkey: Utile or futile?

The oft quoted expression, ‘if you want to know where you are going look to your past,’ applies and points direction to what is happening in Turkey. Following the death of Ahmet Atakan, the Taksim solidarity group called for a gathering of remembrance, carnations in hand for the evening of Tuesday September 10th. Police closed Gezi Park, in anticipation of the large crowds, and presumably the stand off to come.

If we take a look at social movements, those which succeed are defined by a few things: a clear goal, leadership and organisation. Those that fail have diverse, even conflicting goals, lack of clear leadership and organisation. For those inclined to read up on this, see Comparative perspectives on social movements : political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural framings.

When the protests began on May 31 earlier this year, they continued for a month with three clear demands: stop the removal of trees in Gezi park, ban the use of tear gas and hold to account the excessive use of police force. These demands have been iterated, but not really met. Trees are being cleared through Middle East Technical University in Ankara, which has drawn Gezi-like sit ins and police confrontations. Tear gas is still used while some police have been held to account via demotion and court proceedings. All this erupted again tonight in what a few commentators are calling a ‘return to resistance,’ in other words the continuation of the original Gezi protests which had simmered during July and August… Turkey’s holiday months.

I decided to do a little test on Twitter. I asked, “What is the objective of tonight’s protests in #Turkey? Sympathy for another death? Protest for the sake of protest? New demands?

The reaction this drew is indicative of the sentiment in Turkey. There were emotional responses, questions asking whether I was ignorant of the situation, and the other side of the coin, namely that for changes to occur, they don’t overnight particularly in the judicial system where proceedings are months long. That is of course, unless kangaroo courts count.

From various feedback, here is what seems to be todays protests sentiment:

1. Against the deforestation taking place at METU

2. Against police violence

3. Against actions in Syria (military intervention)

Although a simple question, responses showed there were no simple answers. That points to a failing by protests organisers and by extension those taking part – if the thousands who are taking part are not able to clearly answer what the point of the march is beyond resistance, by failing to state what the tangible outcome is, we return to the main question – what is the point of the protests? Yes, you can show solidarity en masse but these protests ended the same way others did. Dispersal of crowds via tear gas, building of barricades and property destruction. So what changes? What stays the same?

The positive thing is that from the responses gathered, demands can be measured and there are ways to achieve them. Yet without a clear strategy and effective leadership, will protests risk futility? One person replied that protests were for the death of Atakan, although reports on the autopsy in various Turkish media have cited his falling from high ground and sustaining internal injuries as the caused this and not a tear gas canister shot to the head. Another said protests would continue unless justice was served, with another person replying that was not a rational pretext as legal proceedings stretch into months.

By pitting one side against the other, dialogue, debate and clear steps forward fall through. The protestors become a labelled a group of troublemakers while anyone in authority is lumped as authoritarian. The cycles repeats. Police use force, protestors react, police use more force protestors react until fatigue wears down or heavier handed tactics disperse crowds. Issues remain unresolved and simmer, until the next spark, such as the death of a protestor, the clearing of trees or what is happening in Syria providing the next impetus to demonstrate.

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.

On the protests in Turkey

Whats happening in Turkey?

In the first interview with Lorna Dunkley I talk about the role of social media and media coverage on the protests in Turkey.

In the second with Adam Boulton on “Boulton & Co” a more general short discussion on whats happening in Turkey.  At the time of interview, the delegation members to meet with the Prime Minister hadn’t been identified, and numbers were floated 11-17.  Things have progressed since then. Also, not everyone fasts in during Ramadan. I don’t have stats on that… yet. If interested in more, please leave a comment.

For more, see previous posts:

Not a Turkish Spring (on the LSE Polis blog)

Turkish Summer: Protests, politics and media (on the LSE Polis blog)

All quiet on the Rumelian and Anatolian fronts? 

Istanbul on Saturday night: what was done, what is to come 

Broadcast footage from Sky, used with permission from Reuters and cannot be used for commercial purposes

Istanbul on Saturday night: what was done, what is to come

Updated: 17 June, 2013 (A quick write up, will be edited properly in due time)

My great grandmothers brother was Lutfi Kirdar. He became mayor of Istanbul in 1938. In 1940, he tore down the Ottoman barracks and in its place built a park. That park is Gezi park centre of Turkey and media attention for the past three weeks.

Last night, following the calls by President Gul (on Twitter) and Prime Minister Erdogan (at an Ankara public rally) for the protestors to leave Gezi Park, who had been acknowledged as peaceful, they were moved out. Protestors in the park had been singled out of the crowds gathering daily at Taksim square protesting. They were not to be interfered with. In the park were hundreds of camping tents and impromptu services – food for those who needed it, triage and gas masks, even a library. There were performances in the park, activities for children and even yoga. It had the feel of a calm community oasis, its central point the base of the protest: to stop the removal of trees in the park to make way for planned development. During the afternoon, after calls from police to leave, a series of water cannons and tear gas were dispersed in the park, and with it all its habitants. Some press remained and live images started to come through – police knocking down tents in what appeared to be making sure no one was hiding out and then the ‘clean up’ began. First the bulldozers then the municipal workers. The bulldozers moved the barricades, including one overturned car while the municipal workers started to take down banners, tents, the makeshift stall, everything. A ‘wishing tree’ had been set up where people had written their hopes and tied them with string.. which was then burnt after police took control of the park.

Wish tree before via https://twitter.com/zeynep/status/346000092148420608

Wish tree before via Zeynep Tufekci

Where were the thousands of people who had been previously assembled? Where did they go? They were cordoned off into various streets that feed into Taksim Square. Children who had been separated from their parents were taken to the Divan Hotel, at one edge of the park. All this of course, was organised on social media. Accounts set up for the Gezi ‘resistance’ have tens to hundreds of thousands of followers. Word gets around quickly. But what happened shortly after was police firing teargas into the hotel. Arda Kutsal founder of Webrazzi, Turkey’s dominant digital blog, said on Twitter “No one in this country will justify those who threw tear gas into the hotel, when children were inside.” Turkish commentator Ziya Meral responded “it beggars belief.” Reports, again on Twitter began to circulate that press was being removed from the park. Shortly after, the live streams went down.

Wish tree after via Zeynep Tufekci

Wish tree after via Zeynep Tufekci

As a journalist your responsibility is to report – to be neutral, objective, fair and furnish analysis with context. But what happens when the issue becomes personal and when your stores of rationality are no longer able to explain events? How do you explain tear gas being targeted towards a hospital? Writer for the Economist, Amberin Zaman expressed the shock and speechlessness that accompanied the events. First shock – no more words to explain unnecessary police force. Didn’t a delegation of protestors meet with the Prime Minister, didn’t he say a referendum should be held on planned developments? Hadn’t the police drawn back and allowed the festival, peaceful like atmosphere to continue? This became dismay of witnessing what had been left in the past, and unimaginable in today’s Turkey, a country whose inhabitants are known for their sense of pride and ownership. Where was the rationality in all of this? Why do this on a Saturday night, a weekend when protestors have no reason to go home?  The progression of sentiment is predictable. Shock at removal from the park, sadness of the ending, not by their own accord, of the collective community they had built. This can only spur anger. People will feel robbed of reason and a perceived sense of justice. Their grievances had been listened to, there was hope, and now… this…

At the same time a pro government rally is to be held tomorrow (Sunday 16 June) in Istanbul. Not good timing. Why create a potential situation for political ideologies to clash. Up until this point, this was not an issue of contention. The Gezi and related protests were marked as an organic movement that swelled in response to excessive or unnecessary use of police force. This was acknowledged by President Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Arinc. Protestors were drawn from a diverse cross section of society: the students, the unions, the lawyers, conservatives, the Kurds, and yes even government supporters. Although protestors chants did include anti government and anti Erdogan cries, this did not translate into the oft repeated objectives of the cause: the cessation of the planned Gezi park development, a ban on tear gas and those responsible for excessive police force to be held to account. These objectives have been acknowledged but are not in play.

By forcefully removing people, by continued dispersal of tear gas, sound grenades, water cannons on the heals of understanding and dialogue; by holding rallies that will now draw diametrically drawn political lines, hopes for resolution are fading. That resolution could have been negotiated space. But as characteristic of so much in Turkey, this too can turn into a “my way or the high-way” approach. Some protestors have made the call that the Prime Minister also represents them, even if they might not have voted for him, that he is still their Prime Minister too, meaning they want him to act in the best interests of the entire country, not just his constituents. Calls for him to resign and his government to step down are unrealistic and unhelpful. He is after all a popularly elected figure increasing at each subsequent election his share of the vote. Perhaps its the words of Gurkan Zengin, head of news of Al Jazeera Turk, which will remind the check to be kept – that “Erdogan is an important brand for Turkey, but Turkey is more important than Erdogan.”