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Turkey’s stereotyped image in foreign press (2)

Monday 8 October 2007, by Yasemin Sim Esmen

Turkey is stereotyped by the foreign press into just three words , says BBC College of Journalism Editor Kevin Marsh : The headscarf, generals, and the European Union. He is trying to change this through his college’s program.

- Following the previous article

The role of journalists

“I think journalists should take responsibility, too. It is one of the things I am doing in the college. It is frightening that, when you talk to journalists in most countries about ethics, standards, or social responsibility, they just want to walk away from that conversation,” said Marsh. He added that the situation is a bit different in the United States (U.S.) where colleges build the debate on ethics into their course work. “So changing slightly there, but again the application of the ethical standards is not as good as it could be. And when it comes to local television, when it comes to the crunch, it will always be the profit motive that wins out,” said Marsh.

He believes that journalists can establish an ethical control mechanism among themselves. “I also think there is a funny sort of attitude among journalists that they do not criticize each other,” he said, adding, “As journalists we have pressure about being the first to do a story, or about having a splash headline, or all sorts of pressures to drive us in a certain direction. But we do not feel a pressure when someone has made a story up; we do not feel the urge to say ‘you made it up.’”

Transparency a problem with the Turkish media

Marsh has met numerous members of the Turkish media and other professionals in Turkey. Through his encounters, he has apprehended that the Turkish media has a problem of transparency. “I think it is great to have a vibrant press. The more newspapers, the better,” he said. “But I think there is a bit of a problem when there is a risk that shareholders, owners, etc. deliberately use the newspaper to support either a particular business attitude or a political attitude, without it being absolutely clear that it is what they are doing.”

He believes that this is a risk for media all over the world, as the division between news and comment is becoming blurred. “Where I think that you get the danger is when an undeclared interest, whether political or economical, starts to affect the news judgment,” he said and added: “If your newspaper supports the government, why not be clear about that? There is nothing wrong with it, it is not illegal.”

He gives examples from the English press: “If you have, and this is a big issue in England, a whole series of business interest that are connected to your newspaper or your channel, then I think you should be clear about that. The Pearson Group owns the Economist. Every time the Economist makes a story about the publishing industry, it always says in brackets ‘the Economist is part of the group that…’ They do that voluntarily,” he said. In fact, only two newspapers in Turkey have a similar policy of disclosure, the Turkish Daily News and the business daily Referans.

Marsh then gives the example of Rupert Murdoch of the News Corporation, known to own the Times and Sky News. “It is only because people know that he owns both that people can see how they are reporting each other. The Sky News never says: ‘Oh, by the way, our owner also owns…’ So that level of transparency is hard to achieve,” added Marsh.

Media’s social responsibility

Marsh believes a lot of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the media to ensure the public is able to understand what they see on television and what they read in newspapers. He spoke at a panel last week during Marketingist about social responsibility in the media. He explains that as part of the BBC’s social responsibility project, next spring the BBC College of Journalism will be launching a Web site accessible to anybody in the world. “It will be a kind of website that tells audiences how we do what we do,” he said. During the project, entitled “Safeguarding Trust,” the techniques used by BBC journalists will be explained to audiences who will be asked, “Do you still trust us now that you know how we do it?” The aim is to make the public understand the message behind the message, not only in news but also in entertainment—to help people understand what a story is really telling them. “This is part of what we see as our social responsibility,” said Marsh. “I think that a lot of the broadcasters do not get this. They think that social responsibility is doing things that are for the social good, in a kind of general, philanthropic sense. They overlook things they could do which are incorporated in their business.”

Marsh foresees that the Safeguarding Trust project will change the way people think about and view journalism.

“I think that once we have the website up and running, journalism schools will use us as a resource. I guess that will influence the language in which journalism is taught outside the BBC. It feels to me as if it will become the industry standard, which I think will be good,” he said.

- The end

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