Western media failed to cover the protests against the Tunisian government and so did Turkish media. Not only was there hardly any news in the Turkish media throughout the 29 day long protests, but also when the Tunisian government fell, Turkish media quickly announced a Wikileaks revolution just like Western media did. No, none of this is surprising and it is most likely to be true for all the other national media systems around the world. In this era of western media conglomerates feeding the world with news that they deem important, if Tunisia didn’t matter to them, it won’t matter even to Turkey, which aims to establish itself as a major player in the Middle East, especially after AKP’s reign.
It took mainstream Turkish media almost an hour after Ben Ali was said to fled the country to post the news on their websites and just like their western counterparts they published short sporadic tidbits on the uprising that lasted for 29 days. Hurriyet announced the news around the same time as CNN did for instance, while Radikal and Milliyet lagging quite behind. When Turkish journalists began interpreting why the Tunisian government fell, most regurgitated mainstream western media’s inaccurate analysis of the revolution such as placing an unreasonable emphasis on the internet’s role (see Ayse Karabat’s column) and/or Wikileaks. Radikal newspaper writer Cuneyt Ozdemir’s tweet below is quite a hilarious example.
His tweet reads: “Wikileaks cables brought down the Tunisian government. let this be a lesson… An internet site can topple a 23 year long dictatorship…” Milliyet newspaper’s columnist Derya Sazak quotes the Wikileaks cable regarding Ben Ali and his wife’s corruption and states how Wikileaks broadened the protests against the government. Vatan newspaper wrote that Wikileaks ignited the fire of the Jasmine Revolution.
Many initial comments in the Western mainstream media falsely implied that after Wikileaks uncovered the corruption of the Tunisian government, Tunisians ran to the streets to protest. I do believe that the limited interest that western readers show about the Middle East played a big role in their attempts to make the story more interesting by showing a Wikileaks link and “how our great twitter is changing the Middle East” kind of feel-good stories for the progress and technology driven Anglo Saxons, who will still buy into Daniel Lerner’s long-disputed 1958 Modernization theory where he argued that new technologies can modernize traditional cultures. Therefore, I can undertand why a clueless western journalist who doesn’t know much about the region or the one who knows the region well but also knows his/her audience’s lack of interest in the region would quickly announce a Wikileaks revolution though this certainly is not an excuse.
The corruption of Turkish and Arab governments are a well-known and much despised fact among everybody in the Middle East since long before the internet era. So, when Turkish journalists, who should pay close attention to the country next door, don’t bother to think twice before they present an inaccurate analysis about the region and act so fascinated with how Wikileaks or the internet caused a revolution in an Arab country, one wonders what’s happening. Turkish liberal, especially nationalist journalists who see themselves on the left, have always lacked interest and showed reluctance in covering what is happening in the Arab world. And when they do, the commentary often ends with a reference to why Turkey’s future lies with the West as opposed to the East or how Turks are more modern than Arabs or how Turks (especially women) enjoy more freedoms than Arabs. This ideological leaning coupled with a strong alliance with America provides a perfect rationale for why Turkish journalists don’t see the need to do their homework regarding the Middle East and instead rely on western media to do the interpreting for them while depicting the region through the same old westerncentric lenses rooted in Kemalism. We will see how long Turkish media will continue to ignore the cries for democracy in the Middle East and fast changes that are taking place in the Arab public sphere.