As is well known, Turkey has been carrying out a military operation in the northern Syrian province of Afrin since last month. The operation, named “Olive Branch,” has become one of the hottest news items in both local and international media outlets. However, the coverage of the operation has become problematic.
Unfortunately, the Western media has done its best to not only fail the class on international standards of journalism, but also to legitimize the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by using terminology that glorifies the group, while not even mentioning its terrorist activities. What Turkey calls the PKK has been branded either “Kurdish fighters,” “guerrillas,” “revolutionary leftist groups,” “US allies” or just “Kurds,” as if the organization represents the Kurdish community. This is completely wrong because the PKK, which is on terror organization lists of both the EU and the US, does not represent any ethnic group.
Although Turkey has reiterated that its main aim in this operation is to eliminate the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and not to harm Kurdish or any other Syrian civilian, international media outlets continue covering Turkey’s fight with the PKK as it if is a war against the Kurdish community in both Syria and Turkey. The international media’s incorrect portrayal of terrorist organizations is not limited to the PKK, with organizations in Chechnya, Spain, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq receiving similar coverage.
The media’s manipulation of the realities on the ground to raise questions about Turkish operations is not something new. Neither is Turkey’s fight against terrorism. Turkey’s fight against global terrorism began in the 1970s following the assassinations of Turkish diplomats and attacks by Armenian terrorist organization ASALA. Even these attacks did not get enough coverage or were not condemned strongly enough in the international media.
The Western media has done its best to not only fail the class on international standards of journalism, but also to legitimize the PKK by using terminology that glorifies the group, while not even mentioning its terrorist activities.
Beside the “issue of labeling,” another problem with the Western media is the lack of empathy. We have seen this on several occasions. When a Western capital is shaken by explosions, the whole world shakes with it. Expressions of solidarity and sympathy flow in from around the world amid minute-by-minute coverage by the international media. However, the same empathy is not seen when a blast takes place in the Turkish capital or any Middle Eastern city, and this was something very obviously noticed. For instance, a Facebook post by a foreigner living in Ankara saying “you were Charlie, you were Paris, will you be Ankara?” was shared thousands of times and rightfully attracted great attention. Does the location or race or terrorist organization matter for the international media in its coverage? This is a big question the media must answer.
Not only the lack of empathy, but also the Western media’s human rights hypocrisy could be seen when it comes to its approach toward terrorist organizations. Founded as a Marxist organization, the PKK — which prides itself on “gender equality” — was one of the first terrorist outfits to exploit women. There are stories of women voluntarily joining the organization, then not being able to leave, eventually becoming victims of all types of misconduct. The Western media, keen to praise the PKK’s “gender equality” by reporting the extraordinary life stories of women in the organization, fail to take a better look at its shameful history. Instead, it considers the PKK’s women and child militants a subject for fashion magazines and calls its fighters “heroes.”
Needless to say, one could easily search the Internet and read the past of the PKK, which has forcefully recruited children as young as eight. The PKK’s use of child soldiers is not something new; however, when it comes to the coverage of these children at the hands of the PKK, we can hardly see an article in international outlets. Even UNICEF released a statement voicing its “profound concern” about the PKK’s recruitment of child soldiers. But, today, for different reasons, the media tends to keep its eyes blind to this reality.
As US writer Stephen Kinzer says: “The fundamentals of what journalism is about don’t necessarily change. What will change is the delivery of news.”
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.