Turkish media, government plagued by hate speech

3 May 2015 / By Today’s Zaman

On Tuesday morning, a national newspaper with pro-government values, the Vahdet daily, hit the stands, declaring on its front page that 300 leaders of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) are crypto-Armenians and claimed that they were baptized in churches. The overall accusatory tone of the article is what can be considered a prime example of hate speech, a problem that runs prevalent in the Turkish press, in which the term “Armenian” is used as a curse word.

Vahdet, along with several other newspapers in Turkey, is often a perpetrator of dangerous hate speech. According to the Media Watch on Hate Speech & Discriminatory Language project of the Hrant Dink Foundation — run since 2009 with the aim of combating racism — which monitored local and national newspapers in Turkey from May to August 2014, hate plays a large role in Turkish print media.

Its report presented four different categories of hateful discourse: exaggeration/attribution/distortion; blasphemy/insult/degradation; enmity/war discourse; and use of inherent identity as an element of hate or humiliation/symbolization. Vahdet’s example from Tuesday would fall into the fourth category.

Hate speech is no small matter. Many of the leading examples of when hate speech has become prevalent in mainstream media and society have resulted in some of the most tragic events in recent human history, as took place in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Rwanda in the 1990s and Kenya in 2007. The prevalence of hate speech can be seen as an indicator of oncoming turmoil.

According to the report, “othering” groups of people propagates hostility between demographics, often ethnic and religious groups. The report shared that in the time period analyzed, “hate speech [in print media in Turkey] primarily targeted Jews, with 130 items.” The second most targeted group are the Armenians, with a significant drop to 60 items detected.

The report also shared that the leaders in hate speech generated were the Yeni Akit daily, with 39 issues counted with offenses, the Milli daily with 23 issues and then Milat, with 12 issues.

On Tuesday evening, a panel discussion titled “Dangerous Speech/Hate Speech & Media Pluralism” was hosted by the Media Watch on Hate Speech project at the Hrant Dink Foundation in İstanbul. Panelist Dr. Susan Benesch, who founded the Dangerous Speech Project and is a professor of international human rights at the American University in Washington, D.C., was able to paint a picture of what constitutes hate speech. What one can gather from Benesch’s presentation is that Turkey is a textbook definition of a country that uses hate speech in the media.

“There is no consensus or clear universal definition of hate speech. It is a term that is used more and more widely but in general, hate speech means speech that attacks or denigrates a person or people because they are members of some kind of group,” explained Benesch.

One of the factors that Benesch explained to examine for hate speech is to look at who is the voice and whether that speaker has the ability to influence an audience, whether the speaker has power and if they are popular or not. Naturally, a newspaper falls under the category of holding the capability of influencing people, but this factor runs beyond just media and also includes Turkey’s leading politicians. When examining the rhetoric of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), one can see that its leaders often use a strategy of attack in their politics.

On Wednesday, in a direct address to US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf about the treatment of protesters in riots in Baltimore by the police, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek said, “Come on blondie, answer now.”

Much like Vahdet, then-Prime Minister Erdoğan stated in an interview in August 2014: “Let all Turks in Turkey say they are Turks and all Kurds say they are Kurds. What is wrong with that? You wouldn’t believe the things they have said about me. They have said I am Georgian. … They have said even uglier things — they have called me Armenian, but I am Turkish.” In this statement, Erdoğan used the term “Armenian” to convey something “ugly.”

President Erdoğan also called 15-year-old Berkin Elvan — who lost his life as a result of being hit by a tear gas canister launched by the police during the Gezi Park riots as he walked home — a terrorist. He also accused members of the Çarşı football fan group of being coup plotters and has made a direct target of supporters of the Hizmet movement — a civil society group that follows the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen — calling them members of a “parallel state.” Whoever is the target of hate speech, the fact remains that the leaders of the ruling party are frequent users of various forms of hate speech.

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