Headlines or weapons of mass destruction?

Date posted: February 24, 2014


The Dec. 17, 2013 graft and corruption probe will most probably be regarded as a milestone in Turkish politics for researchers in the future.


The Dec. 17 operation and its aftermath have revealed how the sine quo non dynamics of democracy like the rule of law, freedom of speech or press freedom have been sacrificed to ensure the “supreme interests of the state” and to guarantee the privileges of the political elites.

It should be noted that since the inception of the Turkish Republic, the supreme interests of the state have never been in harmony with the interests of the nation. The values of such a democracy, the guarantee of individual liberties or the protection of human rights have most of the time been regarded as elements of secondary importance. In parallel to that, press freedom and pluralism in the media landscape have always been seen as a threat to state interests. The unquestionable interests of the state have generally been supported through authoritarian policies carried out by the so-called democrats.

In fully fledged democracies, an independent and free media plays a vital role. As Robert Dahl (1915-2014) puts it in his conceptualization of polyarchy, alternative sources of information is a significant requirement  in democracies. If we have a look at the media landscape in Turkey to see whether this principle is implemented or not, we can easily see that the majority of the media today has no reliable news sources, let alone alternative sources of information. Each day, the newspapers close to the government (and also close to the state apparatus) publish plenty of biased news reports, articles full of lies, threats and insults as well as pieces as tools of black propaganda vis-à-vis the “parallel state.”

We all know that since the graft probe became public on Dec. 17, the pro-government media in chorus with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labeled the Hizmet movement as a parallel state structure getting engaged in illegal activities with external forces to overthrow the government. Despite the fact that there is no evidence for such accusations, the pro-government media in this process has acted as a propaganda machine to demonize the Hizmet movement through smear campaigns.

Frankly speaking, the recent policies of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, like the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) bill, Internet bill and Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) legislation all indicate how strongly the government has embedded itself with the state apparatus. The EU dream has started to fade away while important steps have been taken in the path to a police state wherein the security forces along with MİT will undisputedly become greatly empowered. However, all these developments have been constructed and represented in the pro-government media as steps contributing to democracy and national will. Every single day, the headlines of the pro-government media have been trying to justify these steps by attacking the Hizmet movement.

According to T. Van Dijk, a distinguished discourse analyst, the formulation of headlines and leads reflects the way a newspaper (reporter, editor, writer, etc.) frames the topics and how these shape the meaning of the whole text. In the chapter “The Role of the Press in the Reproduction of Racism,” from “Migrations: Interdisciplinary Perspectives” (2012), Van Dijk states the following:

“Since topics are normatively expressed in headlines, the predominance of negative topics in the news also shows in the headlines, as the dominant and defining structural category of news reports. Similarly, the more negative a story about them, the more it will appear prominently and at length in the paper, that is, on the front page, on top, across several columns, and with big letter types.”

From this perspective, it could be said that the headlines of the pro-government media portray actors who oppose or criticize the government as traitors and members of the parallel state. The formulation of the headlines always involves a stress on a “negative other” (the parallel state) with the aim to positively represent and even sacralize the government and today also the state.

Lastly, it is noteworthy to say that, most of the time claims by these newspapers have been refuted. For instance, independent deputy İhsan Barutçu denied telling the Star daily that the Hizmet movement had plotted against him after the daily ran a headline misquoting the deputy. Barutçu later made a statement in which he denied having ever referred to the movement as “parallel state” in his interview with the daily. This single case is enough to show how some particular media outlets aim to harm the Hizmet movement and its members and followers through misinformation, misrepresentation, biased news reports as well as headlines telling lies.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 24, 2014

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