Erdogan’s Fight with Global Media During Elections: Lessons for the World

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With his run-off victory over Kemal Kilicdaroglu on May 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stretched his presidency for the next five years into a third term. Turkey, however, held a two-round presidential election, a first in the country’s political history. After 99.43% of the votes were counted, the Supreme Election Council (YSK) of Turkey confirmed that Erdogan had won with 52.14% of the vote, while a total of 48.16% went to Kilicdaroglu. However, thousands of people congregated in Taksim Square in Istanbul, shouting Erdogan’s name and yelling “God is great.” They gathered outside the Party offices in Istanbul as early results indicated that Erdogan was in the lead. There were families with kids there, and there were also people waving flags and horns and lighting off fireworks and flares.

With regard to the discussion of the election, it has been discerned that the worldwide media has paid close and meticulous attention to the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey in 2023, with several publications covering the election campaign and offering predictions for the outcome of it. The analysis provided by Western media, however, was a huge letdown, especially before the first round. Their story was skewed, and their media delivery was considerably biased and to some extent highly questionable, according to Erdogan. When it became clear that Erdogan was going to win, various Western news outlets toned down their negative coverage. By the time, although several stories and news on Erdogan’s strong leadership have been published all across the world, in the Western media, Erdogan is often depicted as an authoritarian leader with a cruel and anti-democratic streak. The media’s ability to shape public opinion has undoubtedly contributed to the adverse impressions of Erdogan through the lens of Western media outlets.

The Context in a Synopsis

This media propaganda development started even before the first round of election when The Economist, a British magazine, singled him out for criticism with an inflammatory cover that propagated “save democracy,” and “Erdogan must go.” Likewise, Le Point and L’Express, two French magazines, also conducted anti-Erdogan propaganda that was further vocally slammed by him. He has spoken out against the efforts of foreign media to sway public opinion ahead of the approaching elections in Turkey ‘How,’ he said, ‘do you manage to get these headlines on the covers of magazines? It’s not the Western world! My country will make the final call on it.’

However, after winning the election, Erdogan told tens of thousands of his backers crowded outside the presidential compound in Ankara that they must “put aside all the debates and conflicts regarding the election period and unite around our national goals and dreams.” He also added that “We’re not the only lucky ones here; Turkey comes out on top. Our entire civilization and our democracy emerge victorious.” In this regard, Erdogan has many times uttered that this is a win for democracy which has been determined by the people of Turkey themselves, not the Western media and their thoughts.

Media Bias Against Erdogan 

There are many angles to look at while analyzing Western media’s portrayal of Erdogan’s regime. Although the diverse policies of the Erdogan government have given Western media ample opportunity to focus on sensitive issues like human rights, free expression, and democracy, the way the Western Media illustrated Erdogan is a very thought-provoking development. The government’s policies, however, are frequently criticized in the Western media. The Erdogan government’s activities that were seen as harmful to freedom of expression were accentuated by several Western media outlets, such as The Economist, CNN, Le Point, L’Express, The Washington Post, and the BBC, in storylines full of unfavorable pictures of Erdogan. They complained about how media freedom was being stifled, journalists were being detained, and the extermination of opposition parties. Several news organizations have also brought attention to the widespread imprisonment of journalists for reporting on or criticizing the government.

Nevertheless, taking note of the detrimental international news reports, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu condemned the slant of the Western media that displayed Erdogan in a questionable manner. This is, of course, extremely regrettable because of its widespread influence in molding public opinion, which in turn might extensively blow the outcome of the general elections. In this respect, Erdogan said, “What do all the magazines say on their covers? Erdogan must go.” “We have achieved most of our democratic gains in Turkey by fighting with the headlines,” Also, Christoph Hst Rstel, a Middle East specialist, claims that the Western media’s antipathy towards Erdogan stems from global cartels’ distaste for his meddling in their plans in the aspects of immigration, human rights, and other forms of cooperation. In addition, according to him, the democratic process in Turkey is being hampered by biased Western media portrayals and attempts to have an impact on the outcomes of elections through public opinion edifice.

Misrepresenting the Political Dynamics of Turkey

One reason for the widespread misinterpretation in Western media is a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives Turkey’s political culture. This narrow, economically-driven perspective ignores the paramount importance of Turkey’s defence sector, counterterrorism, and national security efforts. For instance, The Economist altered its tune and predicted Erdogan would beat Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the competing candidate, in the runoff before the election. So the tabloid changed its tune, realizing this time that nationalism is vital. In this regard, in spite of this, nationalist principles have never been additional considerations in Turkish political tradition. Protecting national security and actively countering terrorism has never been less than crucial.

The Western media has shown that incorrect conclusions can be drawn when circumstances are analyzed purely through the lens of economic factors. Moreover, the notion that the Turkish people have had a lot of terrible experiences with coalition governments went unnoticed. The public’s psyche has been permanently scarred by the volatility and uncertainty brought on by these coalition regimes. Kilicdaroglu’s plan to form a broad coalition to govern raised fears of anarchy in the political system. Painful flashbacks to the unrest of the 1990s were triggered by the prospect of seven vice presidents assisting the president during Nation Alliance leadership. However, this crucial detail was ignored by Western media outlets, demonstrating an appalling degree of familiarity with Turkey’s political culture and common memories and manipulating the elections, according to Erdogan. With an aim toward Kilicdaroglu, he said, “if I say ‘America is manipulating the elections in Türkiye, Germany is manipulating it, France is manipulating it, England is manipulating it’, what would you say?”

Zero Heed of Media on Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s Racist Choices

A racist slogan and campaign regarding the return of the  Syrian refugees were picked by the Turkish opposition as an agenda in the second round of the election. The major objective is to dispatch the Syrian refugees back to their own country, even if it endangers their lives. The leaders of the opposition assert that it is essential for Turks to live in safety and have access to work without interference from people of other nationalities. In a similar occurrence, some Al-Jaid party members who are part of the opposition coalition asked, the journalist of Al-Jazeera named Mubasher, a Turkish national with Arab ancestry, back to her country and stop speaking Arabic in public. Even so, someone tried to abuse her by hitting her and breaking her camera apparatus. Moreover, a politician from Turkey, Umit Ozdag, who has made obnoxious racist comments about refugees, declared his backing for Kemal Kilicdaroglu and that the two had come to an understanding.

The campaign to eject Syrian refugees from Turkey and send them back to an unknowable fate at the hands of Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, would be launched as soon as Ozdag was appointed Minister of the Interior if the opposition party won the presidential election. In this regard, intriguingly, many Western news outlets portrayed Erdogan as an authoritarian leader who, while portraying Kemal Kilicdaroglu as an incarnation for democracy. Therefore, Erdogan should step down, according to Western media, so that democracy may once again flourish in Turkey. In this respect, the question against the Western media arises while they are magniloquent about Erdogan’s activities, why the racist activities of the opposition parties are still veiled? Is it not a spontaneous bias of their media? However, Erdogan said, “Turkey set to hit back at Western propaganda on May 28” and in reality, the Turkish people’s responses on the final round of election proved that the Western media’s speculation was not flawless at all.

However, in a nutshell, there are many things on which rational individuals may diverge, including Erdogan’s ruling, the accounts of some human rights organizations about the incarceration of journalists in Turkey, the censorship of some social media platforms, and his choices after the military coup in 2016. By contrast, it must be conceded that some election slogans of the opposition party were also disturbing to a considerable extent which has not been covered by the Western media. Therefore, it is very critical for the readers to exercise caution and look for other sources of news that might help develop a more complete picture of a particular issue. In such a way, whether the reporting of the Western media about Erdogan is fair or not, those who are interested in the Turkish election, Erdogan’s leadership or any other political dynamic of world politics, should do their own consult and study from diverse media sources – both from the Western front, the Eastern front, Global North and Global South.

– Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Geopolitics [Link]