Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Turkish media practice war journalism

 Peace journalism was originally conceived as a response to war journalism, which was defined as reporting that romanticizes and sanitizes war and violence, stoking “us vs. them” hatreds, while presenting violence (war) as the only or best option.

Such war reporting can be seen in the Turkish media the day after a Turkish jet downed a Russian war plane.

One newspaper, Yeni Safak, has a large flaming picture of the Russian jet with the headline, “We warn, we shoot.”  In Milliyet newspaper, the same flaming plane framed a map and included a large headline (as best as I can figure using a clunky translation program) indicating a punch or bruise inflicted after a warning (uradri, in Turkish).  Other papers, according to the Turkish Press Review ( also emphasized the warning given the Russian pilot. Vatan newspaper’s headline said, “We made 10 warnings.” Similar headlines stated that "Russia has crossed the line" (Star newspaper)  and that Turkey had reached its "Limit of patience" (Haber Turk newspaper). 

The heavy emphasis on the warnings, and the limits of patience, echo the official line coming from Turkish President Erdogan’s office. Indeed, this framing sounds almost defensive—we didn’t want to do this, but were left with no choice. 

As for the photos of the flaming Russian plane, this also seems to be a picture that official Turkey would want published and re-published: an image depicting the might of Turkish armed forces and the consequences of violating Turkish air space.

My colleague Dr. Metin Ersoy, a communications professor from Eastern Mediterranean University in Turkish North Cyprus, is also studying news coverage of the incident. He writes, “Actually I am collecting the front pages of Turkish newspapers. It seems that majority of news coverage is supporting Turkish government side and just war oriented frames have been used. (Only a) minority of them just criticized the government… They have used conflict frames in order to legitimize and show violence as a best option of this problem.”

A peace journalist would indeed publish the official line, understanding that it is propaganda. However, she would take a further step, and offer a critique of these military actions, give a voice to those who oppose or criticize it, and provide context and analysis. (The best analysis I’ve seen thus far includes the role that Russian bombing of Turkmen in northern Syria may have had on the decision to shoot at the Russians.) Finally, the peace journalism approach would reject the saber-rattling war frames that present violence (military confrontation) as the only, best response in this situation. Better journalism wouldn’t ignore the violent option, but would balance it with voices from those who advocate non-violent solutions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Media weep for Paris; virtually ignore Lebanon
While the world followed every detail of the Paris attacks, wept along with Parisians, and changed their Facebook profile pictures to the French tricolor flag, a similar attack the day before in Beirut, Lebanon went virtually ignored by the Western media.

A Lexis-Nexis database search of newspapers coverage of both events is revealing.  A simple search for “Beirut” on Friday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Nov. 14 (the two days following the bombing that killed 40 and injured more than 240) showed 262 hits. Meanwhile, a search of newspapers for “Paris” the two days (Nov. 14 and 15) following the attacks there generated more than 3,000 hits. (The search “maxed out” at 3000 hits). 

In terms of volume, there was at least 11 times the coverage of the Paris attacks than the Beirut bombing in Western media.

What this doesn’t take into account is the prominence of the coverage. An unscientific search of the Newseum’s front page database showed almost universal front-page, next-day coverage of the Paris attacks, at least in major daily newspapers. In an informal perusal of 50 front pages, only a handful of small town papers (“The Baxter Bulletin,” “The Harrison Daily Times”) did not have prominent, page-one coverage of the Paris bombing. A similar informal examination of day-after coverage of the Beirut bombing revealed no page one coverage that I could find, except an easily-missed one column inch teaser at the bottom of page one of the New York Times announcing that dozens were killed. 

The dearth of coverage was not missed by a dozen or so Lebanese Facebook friends whom I met while teaching peace journalism in Beirut. These Lebanese universally pointed out the incongruency between Paris and Beirut. One said succinctly that the lack of media attention sends is that “some lives matter more than others.” Another former Lebanese student, and current journalist, wrote that “the whole global expression of compassion (for Paris) is culturally constructed in a way which significantly guarantees the superiority of the more powerful France. Everything is there to remind us, citizens of the “3rd world”, that victims on the other side are more important than ours.” Several changed their Facebook profile photos so that they included an overlay of the Lebanese flag.
These sentiments were echoed in the New York Times. “’When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,’ Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. ‘When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.’” (November 15, 2015).

Does the disparity in media coverage and world reaction reveal a disregard for people “in those parts of the world?” I’m never prone to believe broad media conspiracies, that there is some malevolent entity coordinating and controlling Western media coverage. No, rather than a larger agenda, I believe that the lack of coverage of the Beirut bombing simply reflects standard media narratives—a combination of habit and practice that is hard to break. So when violence happens in Beirut, which carries a violent narrative, journalism and the public see it as routine. And media don’t usually report the routine. Hence, the limited coverage.

More responsible journalism, and more realistic 21st-century journalism, must stop marginalizing events and people from “those parts of the world.” After all, the global ISIS threat sprang up in just such a part of the world, as did Al Qaeda. Regarding the Beirut bombing, better peace journalism would humanize the Lebanese victims, as media have done with the Paris victims, and explain the dire geopolitical ramifications of a de-stabilized Lebanon.

If an examination of media’s response to these twin tragedies teaches us anything, it’s that we as journalists should strive to legitimize all victims of terrorist attacks, regardless of where they live.

--A DIFFERENT TAKE is a piece that says that even if media had covered Beirut, the story would have been ignored by readers. Interesting, though I don't think this absolves media from giving more balanced coverage. 
--ALSO SEE an interesting article from PRI about social media traffic and hashtag use about the Paris and Beirut incidents.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Slideshow: Life Goes On
In the photo slideshow linked here, I take a look at a typical day at a typical place, a grocery story, in an atypical locale, a refugee camp. See also a photo album from the Beydagi Refugee Camp.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Beydagi-extraordinarily ordinary
NEAR MALATYA, TURKEY—In this small town called Beydagi, population 8,000, there are lots of signs of what appears to be a normal life.

There’s a small graveyard here. Officials perform about 60-70 weddings every year. The local clothing shop has a good selection of satiny, fashionable wedding dresses. In fact, there’s a good selection of everything in the clothes store, especially children’s wear. 57% of Beydagi’s population is under 17, so this makes perfect sense. There are, of course, modern schools that employ more than 200 teachers at every grade level from pre-K to 12th grade.
With new friends at Beydagi Camp

During our tour of the town, we spend probably 30 minutes poking around the Esenlik (“Health”) store. Again, the adjectives normal and typical spring to mind. The shelves are lined with everything a cook could need, from oils to dry goods to spices to fresh meat and produce, including the world’s most massive cabbages (2-3x as large as their puny American counterparts). Teenage boys scurried about cleaning every surface—floors, countertops, dairy cases.

Beydagi has a professional police and fire department, several Laundromats, a community  center with a computer lab and art studio. I didn’t see a street sweeper, but they must have one, since the paved roads are nearly spotless.

The residents go about their business just like their counterparts elsewhere.  The difference is that these everyday acts like shopping and sweeping and going to school are a form of defiance—a way of asserting control, in some small way, of a situation that long ago spun out of their control.

You see, Beydagi’s residents are Syrian refugees. And thus, their performance of these usually mundane acts, so far from home and in the midst of such hopelessness, is nothing short of remarkable. As a visitor, surrounded by this seeming normalcy, one might be forgiven if, for just a minute, you forget what these refugees have gone through, the losses they’ve incurred.

After seven hours at Beydagi, as our group of peace journalism workshop participants was preparing to leave, an elderly women in a burqa came up to our van and began chatting with us. As we were about to pull away, the woman said something that will probably always stick with me—a reminder, if one was needed, that all the good intentions that built and maintain this camp can’t change the awful truth of what has happened to these people. The woman said, “Inshallah (God willing), you will never see the things that we (Syrians) have seen.”

Inshallah indeed.

--COMING SOON--Photo albums and slideshows from Beydagi.--

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Reporting Syrian Refugees: Offering counter-narratives
MALATYA, TURKEY--As we prepared today for tomorrow's visit to a nearby refugee camp, the participants in the "Reporting Syrian Refugees" peace journalism workshop analyzed current narratives about refugees, most of them negative, while formulating different approaches that they will be taking during their visit to the camp.

Among the most creative counter-narrative story ideas were stories about a special school for special needs children, good neighbor relations, a trade/craft school for women, spotlighting talented kids, a wedding inside the camp, and a positive story about the educational opportunities inside the camp's fences. All these ideas share in common the notion that they debunk media-perpetuated myths about refugees that portray them only as victims, criminals, uneducated, etc.

Vibrant presentations today included a presentation of a documentary about refugees by Yelda Yanat, reflections about refugees by Dr. Nilufer Pembecioglu, a slide show by professional photographer Akin Bodur (pictured), and a lively discussion about citizen journalism by Tulay Atay and Aynur Sarisakaloglu.

A photo album from the refugee camp will be linked here tomorrow, with a report from the camp to follow in the coming days.