When it comes to covering Turkey much of the Western media are mainly focused on emotional and superficial reporting. The readers in the end lose out on informed and balanced information.

Global news audiences nowadays face hard choices on whether to trust international media coverage. On the one hand, Western news outlets established – in their heyday – an appealing journalistic model, which tended to represent all points of view, provide balanced information and arguments to the public, and showed sensitivity and understanding. 

On the other hand, from the 1980s onwards, significant changes have affected the political economy of the Western media, which ranged from commercialisation and concentration of media ownership to sourcing and cultural values. These factors have effectively eroded not only the news gathering capabilities of Western mainstream media, but also their journalistic standards and ethos.

In the past two decades, a drop in professional journalistic norms and values has been observed in several instances, such as with the US and UK mainstream media coverage of the post 11 September 2001 attacks and the US-led war on Iraq in 2003. 

In my view, the coverage of Turkey’s 2018 elections belongs to the same hall of shame. These are not merely some weaselly words, but represent the findings of a comprehensive study that I conducted, which investigated the patterns of reporting on these elections produced by several established news organisations from the US, UK and France during the period stretching from April 18 to June 5, 2018.

The goal of this research was to determine the quantity of Turkey-related news stories, as well as to analyse the themes and issues that were emphasised in the stories with a view to highlight the type of discourse and imagery on Turkey. 

The findings were edifying: 56 percent of the examined texts negatively portrayed Turkey’s political system and leadership by painting an image of an authoritarian state that stands in contrast with Western norms and interests, whereas 38.8 percent of the articles denigrated the Turkish economy and blatantly misrepresented political and economic facts by utilising the recent Turkish Lira fluctuations to misconstrue an image of a country in crisis and instil fear and panic among investors. Only 5.2 percent of the overall number of articles studied reported on the elections without perceptible bias.

Bias is a term used to describe selectivity in the reporting of information and the coverage of events in a way that contravenes the standards of high quality journalism. 

It represents the predisposition for or against a particular point of view, and takes many shapes and forms like omission, distortion, obfuscation, and even censorship. The media bias investigated in this study was not related to few random cases of individual subjectivity, in which some pundits favour their own ethnic, racial, religious, political affiliation, and class status over others in a few instances. Instead, the study scrutinised the impactful, sustained, and systemic kind of bias, which typically stems from large entities and powerful business interests. 

It is well established that very small handful of Western firms own most of the major publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television companies, film studios, cable networks, satellite services, Internet service providers, and other communication services.

This state of affairs is reflected in the ensuing coverage, and especially when it comes to international affairs. In the case of Turkey’s 2018 elections, it is clear that Western media were heavily engaged in Turkey-bashing in order to build an erroneous picture of the country. 

In this context, journalists adopted certain frames of reference, which selectively used certain arguments and representations while excluding others. They also tended to present an episodic, out-of-context, and unbalanced view on certain incidents and events to paint a purported image of an authoritarian state, whose economy is allegedly a train wreck. Using hit-and-run journalism, these media attempted to sell the story that Turkey, under its current governance, is at the antipode of Western democracy and cannot even be counted as an awkward bedfellow for Western foreign policy.

It is evident that the current political context in Turkey has witnessed the organisation of free and competitive elections regularly from the early 2000s onwards, and all political parties, including the governing party, had to fight for every vote since then. 

Yet substantial coverage aimed at representing the government as dictatorial and authoritarian, while the same media alluded at times that the government might lose these elections. The Washington Post, for example, published an article on June 5 entitled “Another win for Erdogan is no longer a foregone conclusion.” Would the outcome be in doubt if the elections were held in a dictatorship?

Similarly, other contradictions came to light with these media's attempt to negatively depict the Turkish economy, while statistics reveal that the gross domestic product (GDP) of Turkey expanded by 7.4 percent during the first quarter in 2018 from a year earlier, beating even the median estimate of seven percent that a Bloomberg survey published in 2017.

The use of complex imagery in order to generate negative impressions of the country’s political system and strike a blow to Turkey’s economic success story against existing evidence says a lot more about the state of the Western media than it says about Turkey. It's time for Western news media to review their own performance with a critical eye if they aspire to remain a trusted source for news consumers. Failure to do so will make them a relic of the past in the fast-evolving knowledge society.

Download and read the full report on: "Representation of Politics or Politics of Representation? Patterns of Western Mainstream Media Coverage during Turkey’s 2018 Elections".

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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