Structural polarization and the role of media

As Turkey once again prepares to head to the polls, there is a pervading sense of unprecedented political and social polarization in the country.
In fact, it seems like in the last 10 years Turkey has become a country where a civil war — political, cultural, economic and social– is taking place. This is quite new for a country where political order and stable state institutions used to instill a sense of normalcy.
Some may differ with the position that all of this unprecedented on the grounds that Turkey has always been a very polarized country. It is certainly true that during the 1960s and 1970s ideological polarization between leftwing and rightwing movements produced serious political violence and anarchy in the streets.
However, the ideological polarization of those decades lacked the scale, scope and depth of today. This is mainly because the digital revolution has radically changed mass media and mass politics. There was no 24 hour news cycle in the 1970s, let alone internet and social media. A nation with only one TV channel had limited power to polarize the country at the mass level.
Unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, today Turkey has high levels of social media penetration and dozens of regional and national TV stations and news channels, almost all of them driven by partisanship, a need for ratings and sensationalism. What is missing in this mess is basic, unbiased information. Fact-based analysis and objectivity are both seldom found. Instead what we have is a climate of media wars, where TV outlets, social media and opinion makers fuel polarization.
In the absence of basic journalistic standards and trust for the emergence of unbiased knowledge, facts and information Turkey has become the land of social tribalism and communitarianism. People live in their own small circles, read and watch their own media, and demonize other tribes on the grounds that they are engaged in andquotperception operations.andquot Since all information is tainted there is no respected source of individual or institutional journalism.
Opinions are formed based on falsified information disseminated by propaganda machines. The net result is polarization. Political, cultural, social polarization becomes the norm in the absence of objective information, facts, and independent journalism.
There is also another, perhaps even more important source of polarization today known as identity politics. We are in a world where identity trumps ideology. It is no longer leftwing or rightwing ideology, but the very core of who we are that separates us. A polarization based on Sunni versus Alevi, Turkish versus Kurdish, Islamist versus secularist, pro-AKP versus pro-Gandulen identities fuels tribalism and communitarianism. These are primordial identities which make threat perceptions all the more existential. Opinions are formed in a black and white manner without room for doubt or relativism.
For instance, in the eyes of the increasingly powerful pro-government media, Turkey has never been more democratic, prosperous, influential and successful. A significant segment of the AKP voters still seem to worship President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They can find no wrong in his policies despite the accumulation of overwhelming evidence pointing at systemic corruption, authoritarianism and crony capitalism under his administration. On the other extreme is another pole, where the anti-government camp sees nothing but gloom and doom. Erdogan, in their eyes, is a corrupt dictator who is undoing the secular and democratic institutions of the Kemalist republic. They sincerely believe that the country has never hit such lows in terms of democratic, economic and foreign policy standards.
Both camps canand’t be right. If Turkey had a glimmer of independent journalism, a more objective and balanced look would be able to help place perceptions of the country somewhere in the middle of these two extreme poles. In the absence of unbiased reporting based on facts, information and knowledge of the Turkish predicament there will be no end to structural polarization.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman