Saturday, 29 September 2007


It is not the image I had of Turkey. More Barcelona with minarets. Perhaps it isn’t Turkey at all.

The problem is this. Since I started pontificating on this whole Corporate Social Responsibility lark - in particular (my bit, this) the social responsibilities of the media - I’ve been getting interesting and puzzling invitations from all kinds of places.

Kyiv in July. Tbilisi in November. Istanbul in September. I suppose I have an attraction that someone who knows what he’s talking doesn't have. I’m free.

They work you hard and so in less than 24 hours in Istanbul, it’s one lecture, one televised panel, five press interviews and a TV appearance.

I’m asked, among other things, about the portrayal of Turkey in the European press … that was what the lecture was about. I’m not very kind about it. The press, that is. And though I’m no expert on Turkey, I do try to understand the British media for a living and think I can spot a bizarre portrayal when I come across one.

This account by Yasemin Sim Esmen captures some of it.

I exonerate the BBC (as well as the FT and Economist and even some of the quality inside pages … though they are exactly that: inside pages. Often a long way inside). As far as the press is concerned, it’s hard to find coverage that isn’t refracted through the EU/Islam/culture clash prism – even the quality press isn’t always as careful as it could be.

Criticising the UK press portrayal, incidentally, doesn’t mean supporting the Erdogan view of the world … nor even the longer term Turkish take on history. Intriguingly missing from that Turkish Daily News account is a chunky discussion we had about Article 301.

That’s the article of the Turkish legal code that was used to prosecute Orhan Pamuk and a clutch of journalists. One of the (must-be-reformed) weaknesses of the Turkish judicial system is that more or less anyone can prosecute more or less anyone under 301. And they do just that – usually hard-line secularist/nationalists trying to imprison liberal journalists and intellectuals.

“So what’s the responsibility of the Turkish press as far as 301 is concerned?” was the question.

“Well, it’s got to go” was my answer. “And it’s a test of the Turkish press and broadcasters whether they can be the agents of the debate that gets rid of it … a debate they’ll have to reflect in an open, transparent fashion.”

Etc. I see it’s not in the TDN article.

It was pretty clear from my 48 hours in Istanbul – most of it stuck in traffic – that it and probably the Mediterranean seaboard could walk into the EU tomorrow. But as everyone I met made clear, it’s the vast eastern part of the country stretching down to Iraq and Syria that’s the problem.

And that was my message about the western press coverage of Turkey. For the moment, more Brits favour Turkish EU entry than oppose it. But my hunch is that if or when it ever became a close prospect, the western European press would kick and gouge and bite like crazy to make sure it was as difficult as could be.

Another small stone on the mountain

I've hesitated before adding to the post-Chilcot comment mountain. But there are a couple of things that strike me - especially since ...