BY: Ayse Yircali*
The days of July 15 and 16 have marked one of the most critical and significant landmarks in the history of Turkey.
The nation was threatened with an extremely serious assault as a group from within the Turkish Armed Forces attempted a coup on that Friday evening.
The coup attempt targeted the whole nation, not just the president and the government. The public, political leaders, parliamentarians, mainstream media, security personnel, and top military officials resisting the coup planners stood tall and strong.
What did the Western media miss?
Many in the Western media and their analyses failed to show respect and extend credit to the society of Turkey, undermining the critical fact that these people will not accept a regime change by force any more.
A predominant part of American and European media outlets gave the initial signs of failing objectivity during the first 24 hours of the coup. Their accounts of events in the first few hours were full of vague and distant messages.
There was a clear shortcoming in following and reporting the stream of events, such as the instant emergence of thousands of people to stand against the coup and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s departure from his holiday location and his safe arrival in Istanbul.
Instead, CNN International chose to portray Erdogan as “Turkey’s beleaguered president” right at the moment when he was inviting everyone to the streets and announcing that he would soon meet them in the squares.
Meanwhile, an MSNBC reporter published a – now deleted – tweet saying a “Senior US military source tells NBC News that Erdogan, refused landing rights in ?stanbul, is reported to be seeking asylum in Germany.”
It was no surprise that this quote was retweeted by hundreds as breaking news, some of who are regarded as experts on Turkey.
However, soon after, this news was falsified as Erdogan addressed the nation in front of cameras in Istanbul.
This kind of reporting by MSNBC, a mainstream American news outlet, can fairly be regarded as an example of irresponsible reporting at least, displaying the leader of the country as on the run, which is known to have a tremendously discouraging effect on people to give up their stance during such times.
As more detailed accounts followed the following morning, the majority of Western analysis consolidated around one position: falling short of supporting the democratic legitimacy of the people, but rather preferring to put emphasis on stability.
A prompt analysis published on a Fox News opinion page on July 16 declaring that “Turkey’s last hope dies” is a good representation of disappointment on the part of at least some Western actors that the coup actually failed.
Rather than giving a full account of what was happening on the streets, they chose to portray the events as a fight between Erdogan supporters and opponents.
Another example that brought criticism was an article on the BBC website that chose “Erdogan: Turkey’s ruthless president” as its headline.
This, along with many other examples, floundered in informing the world that people in Turkey were giving out an ornamental resistance to an illegal, undemocratic attack on their freedom.
Disregard for the public
A common trait in all these news and analyses is an open undermining of the social movement that has been detrimental to the coup attempt, failure to portray a clear account of developments, avoiding political positioning, and a subtle treatment of Turkey and the Turkish government with negative future scenarios.
A top-notch example solidifying the disrespect towards the Turkish citizens came from The New York Times, which in the following days called the Erdogan supporters “sheep”. This seems to have wrapped up the Western bias and orientalist stance in the eyes of the people of Turkey.
The newspaper published a clarification a couple days later, and said it was a quote from an interviewee in Istanbul. However, that only matters slightly since the NYT had not refrained from titling this article as such in its tweet in the first place.
These are among the numerous striking examples that have raised concern and criticism in public opinion in Turkey.
Objective and well-intended efforts of reporting and analysing should of course be applauded and set apart, and fortunately there are at least a few examples of these.
However, the rest have taken their place in records by their prejudice, double standards and insincerity.
Hopefully, self-criticism will prevail, and the free and independent media in the West will show a more nuanced approach in the coming days.
They failed to portray a solid condemnation of the coup attempt in early messages.
And in later ones, there was – like in the media – an underestimation of the nation’s solidarity and a weaker- than-expected support for the elected government and parliament.
Furthermore, the most problematic common reaction of Western politicians was the inexplicable impatience in jumping to bleak conclusions regarding the measures taken by the government, followed by nonsensical warnings towards Turkey.
What lies ahead?
The early warnings of Turkey’s Western friends regarding rule of law, freedoms and human rights are not overlooked in the public sphere anyhow.
The government now has a huge responsibility to put an end to this crisis and take steps to preserve the spirit of solidarity.
Capital punishment will mostly be discussed by political parties, but so far no political leader has shown a strong willingness to introduce it, which, in our opinion, would be a detrimental turn for Turkey’s democracy and the public psyche.
Reform is necessary in all branches of the state and there is an urgent need for reconstruction in justice and military institutions. A new constitution is now a must – more than ever.
If there is only one thing to underline boldly from this tragic experience, it should be the evolution of the social dynamic in Turkey that has come to a point where it will no longer tolerate the extermination of its will and freedom by force.
This is the most significant bottom line that the rest of the world should see and read carefully while commenting on Turkey.