ANKARA, Turkey: Following Ankara's recent embargo on US-origin electronic goods in response to US sanctions on steel and manufacture imports, US-Turkey relations are further deteriorating with the latest decision of Turkish state-run broadcaster TRT to cease broadcasting Sunday morning cowboy movies and replace them with Turkish films.
Almost as a tradition, TRT has shown cowboy movies on Sundays since the 1980s and it is the first time that the bilateral diplomatic crisis between the NATO allies has hit the movie sector, amid Turkish conspiracy theories that see American imperialism behind every problem in the country.
The decision follows the warning of Turkish media watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) about the expansion of American imperialism and culture through movies. RTUK’s chief Ilhan Yerlikaya recently called on media outlets to show more sensitivity about preventing the extension of American imperialism in commercial ads of American products.
However, in terms of cultural export, Turkey itself globally ranks second in television series exports behind the US as its well-known soap operas reach wide audiences in the Middle East and Latin America as well as the Balkans.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in spring 2017, 45 percent of Turkish respondents like American movies, music and television
In the meantime, Ankara does not seem eager for a complete break away from Washington. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Turkey’s relations with Russia are not an alternative to ties with the EU or the US.
But he quickly responded to the US reluctance to transfer F-35 fighter jets to Turkey: “If they say they can do anything they want, like in cowboy movies, then they will get a response.”
Burak Ozcetin, an expert from Istanbul Kadir Has University’s faculty of communication, thinks the recent comments by RTUK’s chief can be considered an ad hoc response to the ongoing crisis with the US, and for his part, expressions of his enthusiasm to prove his worth to President Erdogan, which is nowadays a common reflex among Turkish bureaucrats.
“Anti-Americanism is a powerful ideological motive in Turkey, and recent polls have shown that anti-American sentiments are on the rise among the population,” he told Arab News.
The results of the Research on Social and Political Trends in Turkey, conducted by Kadir Has University in 2017, revealed that 64.3 percent of the Turkish population evaluate the US as the No. 1 threat against Turkey, while the figures were 39 percent in 2015 and 2016.
“But this anti-American sentiment is also marked by a love-hate relationship. Things so far have shown us the possible normalization of the relations will appease the anti-imperialist outburst of the cultural elites and bureaucrats,” Ozcetin said.
However, for Turkish citizens this decision may spark yet another cultural war between the two countries.
“I spent all my childhood watching US cowboy movies and it seems bizarre to withdraw them from the screen at a time when people can watch whatever they want on the Internet. But I wonder whether the next step might be to block Netflix in Turkey,” Kerem Caglar, a youngster living in Ankara, told Arab News.
Netflix is an American-origin Internet-streaming provider of movies that recently entered the Turkish market with a high rate of subscribers.
“There was a time, the 1980s to be more specific, when cowboy movies broadcast by TRT played a role on public perceptions of the US, but this is no longer the case,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News.
“With numerous private channels way more popular than TRT, the rating of those movies is very low anyway. Besides, American movies are all over the private channels, movies, digital platforms and the Internet,” he added.
According to Unluhisarcikli, if TRT doesn’t show John Wayne movies, private channels will show Brad Pitt movies, and if private channels boycott American productions, digital platforms won’t.
“If digital platforms are banned people will turn to the Internet. If websites streaming American movies and series are blocked, they will use VPN services. I believe that TRT’s recent decision is either commercial or symbolic and won’t have any real impact,” he said.