Has bias become new norm in Western media?

The extraordinary display of democratic maturity by the Turkish people during these elections and the unambiguous results constitute a hard lesson to the self-proclaimed pundits (and pollsters) who went off mark with all types of odd analyses.

Despite a concerted, sustained, and downright biased coverage by Western mainstream media, the incumbent candidate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected on Sunday, while the ruling party and its alliance won a majority in parliament. It was evident throughout the campaign that the Western media’s blatant hostility and character assassination against Turkey’s president fueled the opposition’s anti-Erdogan discourse.

One of the mainframes that were circulated in this regard was the Turkish president’s depiction as a “dictator” who puts “democracy in danger.” This frame aimed at generating deep polarization within the Turkish society by creating artificial divisions and posing false dilemmas, especially knowing that all parties abide by the democratic model.

As the elections’ results became known on Sunday evening, the outcome came as an ice-cold-shower for every pseudo-Western analyst and reporter who indulged in sloppy journalism and offered unbalanced and — more often than not — flagrant partisan accounts. However, the downcast feeling did not last long, and these commentators emerged to engage in yet another round of pre-emptive framing, so as it appeared, to obtain the narrativization advantage and drive a wedge between the different constituents of the Turkish society once again.

A keyframe at play was an off-shoot of the “dictatorship frame,” and operated as a complex construct that is characterized by the presence — or absence — of certain information, keywords, stock phrases, stereotypes, metaphors, and imagery. For instance, the Guardian in its June 25 edition put forward an article entitled “Muharrem Ince concedes defeat to Erdogan in Turkey elections,” which was written entirely from the prism of the defeated candidate, not the victor.

This rather unusual approach allowed the London-based newspaper to downplay the president’s win while amplifying Ince’s performance, deemed as “impressive”. Nothing was said, for example, about the huge gap — more than 10 million votes — between the president and Ince. Furthermore, the latter’s concession speech was selectively reproduced, and his diatribe against Western incitement conveniently omitted. Nevertheless, words and catchphrases like “power”, “one-man rule”, “crushing opponents”, and “Ottoman Empire” resonated throughout the article, attempting to shape the overall narrative and indicating what the newspaper wanted its readers to think.

In a similar vein, the Daily Telegraph produced an article on June 26 entitled “Turkish election ‘unfair’, but the vote was not rigged.” The key theme was centered on the alleged “unfairness” of the elections, in which the opposition had “no equal opportunities”. The piece cited observers from the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, who said that the opposition was not able “to compete on an equal basis”. The injustice frame, as observed by Professor William Gamson, is among the powerful frames that are commonly deployed by Western media. This frame creates an adversarial relationship between ‘us’ (the people who aspire to make the world a better place) and ‘them’ (the people responsible for the problem). It can be manipulated at times to shift the focus of anger to the government, and in this case to deny the legitimacy of these elections altogether.

However, in the aftermath of Turkey’s 2018 elections, the aforesaid frame became impotent for two major reasons. Firstly, the opposition did not have any evidence of significant vote rigging. Secondly, some of the factors highlighted by the opposition and some international observers, such as the perceived unfairness in terms of television coverage, are far from being unanimously accepted.

For example, the Office of Communications in Britain, commonly known as Ofcom, which is the UK government-approved regulatory and competition authority for broadcasting, and one of the world authorities in terms of fair coverage, states that “due weight” needs to be given to the coverage of larger parties, while “appropriate coverage” is to be provided to minor parties. Moreover, Ofcom accepts that the “due weight” concept itself is “flexible.” In short, each party in Britain receives the coverage that reflects its size and weight in the previous elections. The system is thus equitable but is definitely not equal. Hence, singling out Turkey for practices, which are conducted in some of the most respected democracies in the world, is deceitful, to say the least.

On the other hand, the magazine Forbes, which participated in the gung-ho approach against the Turkish economy during the past three months, put forward an article on June 26 entitled “Turkey’s Currency Failure is Easy to Fix.” Ironically, hardly one day after the election, Forbes has suddenly discovered that the currency problem is pretty trivial and easily fixable!

All things considered, Western mainstream media failed yet again — and for the most part — to offer coverage that reflects high journalistic standards. The extraordinary display of democratic maturity by the Turkish people during these elections and the unambiguous results constitute a hard lesson to the self-proclaimed pundits (and pollsters) who went off the mark with all types of odd analyses. After this episode, and if the Western media’s dire performance is not self-critically reviewed, the total demise of once respectable media organizations is not a matter of if, but when.

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