Combatting hate speech in the Turkish media

The Hrant Dink Foundation has run the Media Watch on Hate Speech project since 2009 to counter racist and discriminatory discourse in Turkish press. Project coordinators Melisa Akan and Nuran Agan explain the initiative.

In Turkey, we frequently witness the use of biased and prejudiced language in media. Provocative and racist headlines entrench stereotypes and fuel feelings of hostility and discrimination in society. The aim of the Hrant Dink Foundation’s Media Watch on Hate Speech project is to combat this discrimination and intolerance. Taking into account the importance of civic oversight on the media, the specific goals of this study are to foster newspapers’ respect for human rights and differences, draw attention to racist and discriminatory language used in articles and thereby raise awareness and encourage the print media to stop engaging in hateful discourse.

So far we have set up a team of media watchers, trained them on the concept of hate speech, introduced the idea to newspapers in Turkey and started regularly monitoring daily newspapers for discriminatory language. While the main focus has been on hate speech based on ethnic and religious identity, we also monitor the media for homophobic and sexist discourse. Once we identify news stories and columns that contain such discourse we announce and expose them with short synopses on our project website.

The website is updated almost daily, revealing how hate speech targeting certain groups changes depending on the political agenda. This year, following the verdict that concluded the Hrant Dink murder case, the Armenian community was targeted most frequently. The verdict was followed by the fifth anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination when thousands of people chanted the slogan “We are all Armenian, We are all Hrant Dink.” A large number of news stories and columns targeted the protestors and the Armenian population as a whole for shouting such slogans. The Kurdish community was targeted more recently following the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party)’s attacks on the Turkish army and the Newroz celebrations.  No matter the political agenda du jour, Armenians, Kurds, Rums, Christians and Jews are consistently targeted with discriminatory and hateful discourse.

To raise awareness and engage the public on this process, our website is open to contributions. We also share our findings through various social media networks and publish periodical reports based on our articles including statistical analyses of groups targeted, the types of hate speech used and where hate speech is most often encountered. We have so far published and distributed eight reports to NGOs, universities, newspaper editors and related institutions such as the Press Council and the Journalists’ Association of Turkey. Our spring 2012 report was the first translated into English. We have also organised an international conference, meetings with NGOs, and workshops with journalists and scholars to bring hate speech to the media, communications and law community’s agenda and to determine the best ways to combat racist and discriminatory discourse in mainstream media.

Not enough attention is given to these issues in Turkish universities. Therefore, together with an advisory board consisting of scholars and NGO representatives working in the field, we have prepared a one-semester course syllabus for universities. To rectify the lack of Turkish resources on hate speech, we plan to publish a book to address the topics included in the syllabus.

A number of articles highlighting the Hrant Dink Foundation’s work on hate speech have recently appeared in newspapers. We hope these articles pressure producers of hate speech to see that their venomous discourse does not go unnoticed. A single institution monitoring newspapers is not enough to combat hate speech. We therefore seek to collaborate with other NGOs, media workers, scholars and young people to find ways to combat discriminatory and hateful discourse.

Melisa Akan and Nuran Agan are Media Watch on Hate Speech Project Coordinators at the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

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