Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/Truth in Media in the case of Turkish Politics

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Introduction[edit]

The influence of the newspaper press, at the present day, is indeed very great, either for good or evil. Its influence is great for good, according to its truthfulness; for evil, according to its disregard of truth” [1]

Truth is a broad and complex concept whose definition varies across disciplines. This chapter will focus on the interdisciplinary nature of truth in media studies and politics specifically in Turkey. In this context, truth means unbiased media that reflects the current politics accurately. For most of us, the rest of the world only exits through media and it has a significant role on forming our understanding of truth. The role of media is seen especially in politics. According to political scientist Harold Lasswell, mass media affects political decisions since it depicts current affaires, interprets these events, and facilitates the socialisation of citizens into their adapted lifestyle[2]. In this chapter, media studies are used to demonstrate how the lack of truth in terms of openness and accountability in news coverage, can significantly destabilise the political situation of a state.

What is Truth[edit]

Truth is one of main the main ideas looked at and studied by philosophers. According to certain points of view, it can not be personal and is universal, therefore it would be in opposition with opinion.

However it’s definition varies very much across disciplines. It is considered to be much more universal in hard sciences whereas in arts and humanities the definition of truth is much less restrictive as it can be more personal. According to Descartes, truth can only be reached by using the cartesian doubt, which consists in questioning anything you know until you reach an undeniable fact, whereas in pyrrhonism, truth varies with individuals because every human being has his personal truth.

In media, facts, especially numbers or statistics are often used as evidence. But it seems that they are also very easy to manipulate and used mislead and misinform a population, usually to give an advantage to a political party or a politician. The famous saying there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics" perfectly illustrates this point.

Moreover if a misinformed or uninformed population is voting, the fact that the vote is democratic is questionable

Case Study[edit]

Turkey’s political landscape is well summarised by Elif Shafak : “In Turkey, politics is a dangerous thing. In such a fluid, unsteady country, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the next month, let alone the future.”[3] After the referendum on 2017 the president gained more control and power. However, citizens had a hard time accepting the result for the referendum. Almost every election there is a controversy around the results which is due to rumours of stolen votes and the biased media which shapes peoples' political beliefs. This controversy has lead people to question truth in media and politics. The vast majority of the media are owned by allies of the president. One of the implications of this is that those who criticise the government are prosecuted on baseless allegations of abetting terrorism. [4]Thus, the opposition parties are struggling to be heard in Turkish media. Pro-Government Turkish newspaper Sabah covered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s point of view by 35.1% and 19 times while opposition party CHP leader’s opinions are only mentioned once (1.9%). [5] Mass media in Turkey provokes political polarisation. For instance, in 2017 referendum “Yes” voters were portrayed in a good light by means of supporting economical improvements and fighting with terrorism whereas "No"voters were accused of being terrorists siding with the plotters of the failed 2016 coup[6].

Discussions[edit]

Social media vs traditional media[edit]

Traditional media: Means of communication including newspaper, television and radio

Social media Term used in a new digital age to describe new communication methods, non-centralised [7]

As referenced above traditional media caused problems in the Turkish referendum due to the a select number of rich elites gaining ownership of media sources. With the rise of social media as a disruptive technology in the political landscape some of these problems regarding truth in media influencing politics can be contested due to the lack of centralisation with social media. However, problems remain with the use of social media in politics as some critics have debated that a limited number of social media platforms are able to provide targeted propaganda. Moreover, powerful social media sites such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter have had the ability to influence the result of elections through the manipulation of facts. [8]

Political campaigns via social media have less regulation. This is because there is no third party present to fact check and provide editorial judgement in comparison to traditional media campaigns in which media broadcasters have to ensure that news is impartial, fair and true. Tambini states that in some social media political campaigns there is misinformation and therefore a lack of truth due to the lack of a regulating body. Moreover, there have been questions of truth in social media due to the rise of the term Fake News and the threat of foreign intervention in political campaigns in which through the use of 'psychometric profiling' certain users were heavily targeted by a political campaign. A study by Silverman highlighted that fake news were more highly circulated on Facebook than popular mainstream news stories, often 'fake news' favours a certain candidate therefore reinforcing the problems within the Turkish referendum. [9]

Post-Truth politics in Turkish media[edit]

Caricature made by political cartoonist Carlos Latuff. President Erdogan is seen 'silencing' the press

Post-truth" is an adjective “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. [10]In recent years, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has been using mass media to promote a 'post-truth narrative' in order to appeal to the people and consolidate a position of absolute power. [11]This narrative is strengthened by populist discourse (i.e. that the will of the people is absolute and "what is 'popular' must also be good or true”[12]), dominating news coverage. According to the second condition of our definition of truth (i.e that for a statement to be true it must be supported by adequate evidence and argumentation), “post-truth” populist statements must be classified as non-truths due to their subjective nature. In a speech sensationalised by a pro-government newspaper, president Erdogan states: “. . . Who cares if you are an artist, a professor? First you will respect the people; you can never look down on the people."[13] This shows a strong sense of opposition to the expertise of “an artist” or “a professor”, while a greater weight is given on the importance of “the people”. Given that expert opinion in politics is usually based on facts and justifiable argumentation [14] , an attempt of the media to undermine expert critique leaves people susceptible to manipulation by non-truths. As a result, “the ability of our society to make decisions in the public interest”[14] is seriously harmed: it hinders adequately informed judgements about a political situation. Professor James Pfiffner describes this "adherence to demonstrably false statements" as a phenomenon which "strikes at the very heart of democracy".[15] Equality, one of the basic foundations of democracy, is severely undermined. Once the people detach their opinions from factual evidence, greater ability to manipulate the truth is given to those in power instead.

Conclusion[edit]

In conclusion:

  • concept of truth in both mainstream and mass media is highly relevent for what we consider truth in democrcay
  • interdisciplinary media and politics as truth in media impacts truth in politics
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