April 19, 2006
CONFERENCE ON “MEDIA AND FOREIGN POLICY RELATIONS”
The conference on the “Media and Foreign Policy Relations”, co-organized by Marmara University International Relations Research Center (MURCIR) and BU-TÜSİAD Foreign Policy Forum took place at Ceylan Intercontinental Hotel, İstanbul on 19 April 2006.
The conference has attracted the interests of both the academicians and media. The main themes of discussion at the conference were current foreign policy issues, the role of the Turkish media in shaping of the public opinion, the “language” of news and the reciprocal interaction of media & politics. These issues were scrutinized deeply and multi-dimensionally in the conference which was consisted of two sessions.
The conference began with the opening speech of Ret. Amb. Cem Duna, vice chairman of the Board of Directors and chairman of the Foreign Relations Comission of TUSIAD. In his opening speech Amb. Duna gave various examples about the interaction of reciprocal relationship between diplomacy and media and stated the main problems of communication between the two.
The second opening speech was made by the chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations of Marmara University, Prof. Günay Göksu Özdoğan. While emphasizing the significance of the conference, Prof. Özdoğan has also underlined on the necessity of discussing these issue in detail at the academic level.
Prof. Özdoğan’s speech was followed by the speech of the spokesman of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Namık Tan. While foreshadowing the importance of the relationship between media & foreign-policy, Amb. Tan mentioned that the “sensational way” in which some of the foreign policy news are presented make it difficult for state’s officials to process the bureaucracy of foreign affairs. He emphasized that due to the competition within media, the necessity of sensational and speed informational activity results in giving the news as unwarranted knowledge. This situation causes difficulties and tensions. Amb. Tan also stated that there are deficiencies of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the field of “public diplomacy”, and some steps are taken in order to overcome these difficulties.
Milliyet newspaper’s foreign policy author Sami Kohen who was the first speaker of the first session chaired by the ex-Former Foreign Minister Ret. Amb. İlter Türkmen. Mr. Kohen, emphasized the concept of “Public Diplomacy”, and mentioned that some media associations like CNN and El Cezire have the capacity to create public opinion in different kind of areas. Kohen stated that the fear of “countering public opinion” emerges as a factor influencing not only the way that the news are announced in the media but also the method of interpretation of the events. This has also great impact on foreign policy in respect to the political decisions at the govermantal level.
The columnist of Radikal Newspaper and professor of Bilgi University, Haluk Şahin complained about the neglect regarding the foreign policy reporter’s education. He also mentioned that the priority and the investment that is given to the technology and technical equipment of the media sector should also be given to the human resources. Thus, he underlined that a worldwide TV or newspaper did not emerge from Turkey and there is no “reference” newspaper which sets the criteria of rules of news writing and its transmission.
The third speaker of the first session, Assist. Prof. Nilgül Tutal from Galatasaray University, underlined the historical background of the relationship of media and politics and stated that a particular language has been dominating the media after 1980’s. According to Tutal, after this period, the trend in state-centric journalism started to fade away and the new understanding has been launched; gradually special feature news emerged with a particular focus on war, scandal and drama. The shift towards the continuous and live (real-time) broadcasting has a primary role in transforming the media into a sector of “profit maximization”. Mrs. Tutal argued that these factors caused to the similarity of news and “advertisement language” i.e. visualization and further embellishment of the news as “products”.
Kanal D Media Group chairman Mr. Mehmet Ali Birand was the first speaker of the second session which was chaired by Prof. Binnaz Toprak (Boğaziçi University) Mr. Birand made a presentation supported by visual materials. He argued that between the years of 2001-2003, the programmes and interviews related with Cyprus that were conducted by his team, shaped Turkish foreign policy goals, especially on the problematical issues such as Annan Plan, EU and Turkey relations. He arguest that via this mediatic awareness and attention upon the case of Cyprus, the dynamics of the news has shaped the foreign policy and this aided to the discussion of Cyprus in domestic politics.
Another speaker in the second session was Mr. Ümit Bektaş from the Ankara Bureau of Reuters. As an embedded journalist during the Iraq war, Mr. Bektaş focused on advantages and disadvantages of this kind of journalism. One of the important points he emphasized was that it is completely dependent upon the embedded journalist to use his/her material objectively. He argued that to be embedded in this regard has a technical meaning: a way of going to the front. Mr. Bektaş argued that embedded journalism did not prove success in this war since the public who were watching the news about the war gradually became anti-war advocates.
Finally, Assoc. Prof. Beybin Kejanlıoğlu from Ankara University and Assist. Prof. Cem Deveci from ODTU shared the results of their common research with the audience. The subject of the presentation was more focused on the the academic analysis of the columns and articles in the written Turkish media during the war in Iraq. Media’s role in “closing the discussion” instead of “creating an atmosphere of discussion” about the war is criticized. According to Kejanlıoğlu, some columnist who are taking side with the realist perspective perceive the area of “International Relations” only as a power struggle, and ignore the rest of the problems. Hence, they try to shape the public opinion in the way that Turkey should take side with the USA in the war, in this way they predict that Turkey will enhance its position up to a “regional superpower”. This expression violates the role of the media as public voice. Kejanlıoğlu stated that the discourses of these influential journalists, ignore the difference between “what ought to be” and “what is”. However this difference should be presreved in order to maintain the ethical point of view. She drew the attention to the point that these kinds of attitudes are self-contradictory both on the subjective and objective level.
Briefly, the main questions and concepts that are discussed in the conference were:
• In what respect media and foreign politics relationship affect each other and what are its reflections on the public opinion?
• What is the difference between “visual-editorial” in the language of media and what are their roles in the coverage of news and creating public opinion?
• How does the increase in technology and the news sources affect the quality of the news?
• What are the reasons of the similarity between media’s language and the language of advertisement?
• What are the dynamics of “embedded” journalism? Is it possible to utilize this as a method for gathering the news material in the front?
• Does “journalism at the front” allow to use the materials freely?
• Although Turkish media “opened new discussions” on Iraq war it also played a role in “cancelling the discussions”. How can this situation be examined through the perspectives and theories of International Relations?