Media bias refers to the tendency of news outlets to present information in a way that is partial to one particular perspective or group. This bias can take many forms, including selecting which stories to cover, how stories are reported, and the tone and language used to describe events and individuals.
Media bias can occur at the level of the individual journalist, the news organisation, or the industry as a whole. It can be motivated by various factors, including political beliefs, financial interests, or a desire to appeal to a particular audience.
It is important for media consumers to be aware of media bias and to consider the source and perspective of the information they are consuming.
Given the enduring scrutiny that Western news organisations apply to many areas of the world and ensuing issues of eurocentrism and misrepresentation, it is essential to closely examine instances of media bias in news coverage and framing. Such an approach helps determine the degree to which one can view these media organisations as objective and impartial reporters of truth.
In the past two decades, Türkiye has engaged in a remarkable move toward democratisation and stopped the dominance of the military institution over the public sphere. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spearheaded this shift and transformed Türkiye into one of the key actors in world politics. The Turkish president recently played a pivotal role in assuaging a global food crisis by brokering the grain deal during the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict. For many, Erdogan is a world leader who stood against the injustice of the international arena, declaring the now famous quote: “the world is bigger than five“.
It is certainly true that negative stereotypes and biases have often marked media coverage of Türkiye. Such subjective reporting includes the use of orientalist language and imagery and an insistence on belittling the achievements of Türkiye and framing its success as a threat to the Western world.
Now that Türkiye is on the verge of critical presidential elections in 2023, it is paramount to see how Western news media organisations will once more regurgitate their biases. Exposing such prejudiced stances contributes to a larger understanding of how Türkiye is represented in the media, in general, and more specifically in key political moments like this.
It is also interesting to note that such bias can be blatant or latent. An example of the latter was witnessed in the international news agency Reuters’ job advertisement, posted on December 1, 2022. The UK-based international news organisation used this means to hit out at Türkiye and its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The position is stated as “Deputy Bureau Chief”, and the recruitment is planned to be in Istanbul, Türkiye. The difference that distinguishes this ad from others is the job description requirements. The position requires “strong writing and reporting skills who can deliver deep-dive enterprise stories at the same time as supporting our high-performing team covering a critical juncture in Erdogan’s rule“. The opening of this job ad shows that the international news agency has declared opposition to a leader and a political figure of another country. The ad also drew attention to the upcoming elections in June 2023, highlighting “runaway inflation and a battered lira combining to threaten his bid for re-election in the months ahead.”
Another loaded verbiage in the ad claimed that Türkiye shifted from “modern secular traditions” to “an assertive diplomatic and military presence in regions“. Such verbiage is biased and closer to propaganda than journalism, contrasting with Reuters’ editorial policy. Needless to say, the Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altunand many other Turkish media organisations blasted this sly approach.
Reuters Editorial Policy
When outlining its editorial policy, Reuters’ mottos include catchphrases such as “Freedom from Bias” and “Take No Side, Tell All Sides“. Reuters describes its goal as having “a duty of fairness to give the subjects of such stories the opportunity to put their side. As Reuters journalists, we never identify with any side in an issue, conflict, or dispute. Our text and visual stories need to reflect all sides, not just one.”
While objectivity means handling the news without preconceived positions, the job description puts hostility towards Erdogan as a core requirement to obtain the job.
In its editorial guidelines, Reuters says that they avoid commentary because of the “concern of implying an editorial judgement, and that the best thing to do was to report by giving facts without using such words“. Also, in the Political and Community Activity chapter, Reuters is said to “not give any support – directly or indirectly – to any political party or group nor does it take sides in national or international conflicts or disputes, as per the Trust Principles.”
However, editors seem to have already labelled Türkiye’s diplomatic and military actions and depict Türkiye as shifting from its modern secular traditions.
A rebuke from the authorities and TRT World’s jab
Subsequently, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun tweeted that Reuters seems to “shift away from the facts“.Altun has pointed out that this controversial job description “would only make sense on a propaganda leaflet” rather than practising “journalism“.
On December 24, TRT World, Türkiye’s international public broadcaster, posted a job ad on LinkedIn as a correspondent to be in London. The job description is as follows:
“We are looking for a dynamic and experienced journalist to help lead an agenda-setting news file from the United Kingdom, a NATO member and pivotal regional power with outsized influence in European and Middle Eastern security. Failure of consecutive governments to respond to challenges like Covid 19, Brexit, and global economic crises left Britain in political turmoil. Short-lived governments put the UK’s future in uncertainty, shifting it away from Europe. The death of Queen Elizabeth II reignited the debate about the future of the monarchy, as many people questioned it as a way of rule from the Middle Ages in a modern world.”
TRT World’s action was an intended pun at the Reuters’ job ad. The job description stated, “UK’s short-lived governments, shift away from Europe, and the debate about the future of the monarchy“. Similarly, the TRT World ad described the UK as “a NATO member and pivotal regional power with outsized influence in European and Middle Eastern security“. Such statements show that, as the idiom goes, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Subsequently, social media reacted in support of the TRT World’s job ad, leading #TRTWorld to become a trending topic (TT) on Twitter with more than 5 thousand tweets in a few hours.
Overall, TRT World has astutely given Reuters a taste of its medicine. This issue has again shown the importance for media consumers to be aware of these biases and seek out alternative sources of information that may provide a more nuanced and diverse perspective on the region and its people.