Muted Response From Centre Left Media To Turkish Threat To Expel 100,000 Armenians

This is a crosspost by Just Journalism

Last week’s announcement by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he might deport 100,000 Armenians from his country provides an interesting test for media responsiveness. It had – potentially – all the necessary ingredients for an explosive story: strong regional power responds to accusations of genocide against minority by threatening to deport said minority.

However, the comments made in an interview with the BBC following resolutions passed in the U.S. and Sweden acknowledging the mass killings of Armenians by Turkey between1915 and 1923 as an act of genocide, failed to attract much attention. Only the right-of centre broadsheets covering the story in their print editions. ‘Turkey threatens mass expulsions to punish Armenians for genocide rulings’ led The Times’ international section on Thursday 18th March, detailing Erdogan’s threat:

‘In my country there are 170,000 Armenians; 70,000 of them are citizens. We tolerate 100,000 more. So what am I going to do tomorrow? If necessary I will tell the 100,000: OK, time to go back to your country.’

The article was accompanied by a large picture of a woman sitting amongst rubble with the caption: ‘Many Armenians took refuge in Turkey after their homes were wrecked in the devastating 1988 earthquake’. The newspaper also devoted a leading article to criticism of the Turkish PM’s ‘demagogic and disreputable’ remarks, noting that:

‘Deportations have powerful symbolism in modern European history. The notion that the government of a would-be member state of the EU might propose the forced collective expulsion from its territory of a specified nationality ought to be unthinkable.’

The Daily Telegraph also paid the story some attention in ‘Turkey threatens to expel 100,000 Armenians’ by Foreign Affairs Correspondent Damian McElroy on the same day. It described ‘uproar in Armenia over the suggestions of deportations’ and cited the Turkish PM’s criticism of Armenia’s lobbying diaspora, largely behind international moves to recognise the mass killings of Armenians as genocide.

But what of the traditionally left-of-centre broadsheets and the BBC? The Independent did not cover Turkey’s threat to expel Armenian’s en masse at all. The Guardian published one article on its website, also on Thursday, but ‘Turkish PM threatens to expel 100,000 Armenians over genocide vote’ did not make it into the print edition. Equally interesting was the fact that the story did not trigger any opinion pieces on Comment is free.

The BBC News website published ‘Turkey threatens to expel 100,000 Armenians’ on Wednesday 17 March but the story was not mentioned on the Six or Ten O’Clock News broadcasts. It was also not covered On Thursday’s Today programme.

This lack of interest is particularly noteworthy considering how much coverage these same media outlets have devoted to covering stories about evictions and demolitions relating to Palestinians in east Jerusalem. These affect a fraction of the number of people threatened by Turkey and yet stir a huge interest.

Israel’s plans to relocate Palestinians from 22 residences in east Jerusalem to make way for the development of a tourist park triggered an immediate response from The Independent on 3 March (‘Jerusalem Mayor plans to raze Palestinian homes for tourist park’) as well as from The Guardian on 3 March (‘Jerusalem mayor plans to demolish homes’) and The Observer on 7 March (‘Quiet revolution that is freezing Palestinians out of Jerusalem’). Demolitions and evictions were a key area of focus for the recent BBC Panorama documentary, ‘A walk in the park’ (BBC One, 18 January 2010).

Even taking account of the popularity of Palestinian-related stories in the British media, the contrasting near non-existent profile of Turkey’s brazen threat against one of its minority populations in the left-of-centre press, raises important questions about how these outlets select which stories to bring to the attention of their readers.