The diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands over the last week was an incident that few observers could have predicted. The cordial relations between the two countries spanning four centuries took a dramatic turn and escalated into a full blown diplomatic row when the Netherlands barred Turkey’s foreign minister from entering the country to address a political rally.
As the growing diplomatic standoff intensified, the Western media joined the spat, taking a clearly anti-Turkey stance. On 12 March, not long after the crisis broke, Britain’s tabloid the Daily Mirror ran a headline which read: “Turkish President Erdogan could face total EU ban as Denmark joins Netherlands and Germany in turning ministers away.”
This seemingly wishful headline was well-supported by images of Turkish demonstrators challenging and even appearing to attack riot police in Rotterdam. Deliberately deceptive use of the images appeared to show the Dutch authorities and police as vulnerable victims under physical attack from the demonstrators. In truth, peaceful Turkish residents in the Netherlands who gathered in the streets near the Turkish consulate were standing up to the police who jostled with them and prevented the crowds from approaching the consulate.
The media coverage of outlets like the Daily Mirror was not unexpected, but what was really surprising was educational company the School of Life developing a great interest in Turkish politics. The UK-based independent educational company normally focuses on how to live wisely and well. It runs classes teaching emotional intelligence and offers services including finding fulfilling work and mastering and achieving serenity in relationships. It produced what can only be described as an outrageous, yet camouflaged, video called: “How the Right Words Help Us to Feel Right Things” on its two-million subscriber YouTube channel.
Exposing the dangers
The video discussed the relationship between language and feelings and suggested that good use of language can clarify and express feelings “beautifully” and in the most appropriate way. It further elaborated on the issue by suggesting some feelings have no appropriate words across some languages to reflect precisely what a person feels. They stressed the presence of some words that were unique in one language and could not be translated to another.
After giving an example of word “saudade” in Portuguese meaning a bitter-sweet gloomy feeling about something beautiful that is now nonexistent in someone’s life, the video proceeds to another example of word with a similar meaning in Turkish, “hüzün”. While the video picks up examples in other languages around the subjects such as yearning for beautiful childhood memories in Portuguese and the beginning stage of a love affair in Norwegian, it took a contested political theme around the word “hüzün”.
To better explain this Turkish word, it exemplifies the issue by saying the melancholic feeling that someone feels when “the things are in decline and that the situation – often political in nature – will probably only get worse, typically because of the folly and grandiosity of corrupt political leaders”. It, furthermore, does not fail to say only such a word would convey the “depths of grief unfolding in the Turkish soul”. Beyond this allegorical interpretation of a Turkish word in a political context, what is impossible to miss is the popping up of a drawing of a chubby pig figure in the video exactly when the words, “the corrupt political leaders” are being articulated.
However, the Western media’s involvement in Turkey’s domestic affairs does not end there. In another extraordinary example, Germany’s state-funded ZDF channel ran an animation, on its children channel, about the potential dangers of Turkey’s upcoming presidential referendum. In a blatant attempt to try to manipulate the 1.5 million Turkish people in Germany who are eligible to vote, German ZDF channel went beyond its main responsibility of informing the public about the issue and strived to construct a narrative exposing the dangers of a potential presidential system.
These desperate cases of media interference and involvement provide an example of how the media – be it broadcast, print or online – can intervene to control narratives to dictate how people should think and act. In covering stories, however, one would concede that each media outlet will have its own way of understanding events and incidents, especially in contentious controversial areas.
Nonetheless, the key point here is the media, in the case of Turkey, is setting the agenda and constructing narratives and images to dominate certain issues and it just takes the media to state its message repeatedly to solidify a negative discourse on particular subjects.
Rarely do we see examples of western media’s major outlets coming out their shells and getting a full range of voices in their news reports. Right after US President Donald Trump signed the second executive order temporally banning migrants from six majority-Muslim nations, cable news in US hastily started to discuss the issue with guests. However, news programmes were barely to include Muslim guests to discuss the consequence of Muslim.
Perhaps even more disturbing is that the media is free to determine how and through what lens we, as audiences, should look at the rest of the world. Here we must remind ourselves that media revolves around power, whether it be political, economic or social power. Holding these powers would mean holding the narratives and knowledge to determine what is good or bad. Given the West’s economic and technological ascendancy that have dominated the world for centuries, it should not come as a surprise that the western narrative controls flows of knowledge and perceptions of the today’s world.
Hence, Turkey is neither the first nor the last target of his hegemonic western media which continues to control and manipulate its audiences.