Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 23, 2019

Turkey’s Syria Invasion and Visual Media Bias

Photo: Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos. A TV reporter broadcasts on a hill in the border town of Ceylanpinar, as Turkish military fights with Kurdish rebels in Ras al-Ayn in northern Syria.

Media bias usually has to do with what’s in the frame–not whether or not there is one.

These photos from Magnum photographer, Emin Özmen, who is also Turkish, were featured in a beautifully shot documentary photo story and Q-and-A published at BuzzFeed on Nov 3rd. Surprisingly, the 12 photo story is titled: “A Look At Civilian Life In The Never-Ending Conflict Between Turkey And The Kurds.”

The question is: civilian life for whom?

In this case, it’s obviously the Turkish citizens on the border. Two of the first three photos in the story are the tell. We see a television cameraman camped out on the Turkish side capturing the bombing of the Kurd city on the other side, and then the scenes broadcast on Turkish TV.

Photo: Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos. People in Akçakale watch television reports on the bombing of Tel Abyad, the city across the Turkish border, on the second day of Turkish military operations against Kurdish fighters.

Other photos show Turks cheering its troops on the way to the border, and Turks in anguish over Kurd mortars that breached the border in the attack’s opening hours.

Mindful of the skew, Özmen leads with this statement:

“Journalism has to show all sides of an event, so my work alone is of course not enough to explain the aftermath of this operation, as I was on Turkish side (geographically), so I documented what happened there. I wish I would have been able to document what happened on the other side of the border too (Syria), but I was not able to do so.”

I do, too, because the world saw little of the other side.

Photo: Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos. Elif Aksoy, 13, (second from right) cries, as a mortar landed near her family's store, wounding everyone in the store, including her father, brothers, and sisters.

We tend to forget how much media bias involves the act of omission, not just commission. And how the absence of imagery, in this visually saturated world, becomes increasingly suspect. The Turkish campaign is a perfect example of visual bias almost singularly related to visibility.

–Michael Shaw

Photos: Emin Özmen/Magnum Photos. Caption: A TV reporter broadcasts on a hill in the border town of Ceylanpinar, as Turkish military fights with Kurdish rebels in Ras al-Ayn in northern Syria; Caption 2: People in Akçakale watch television reports on the bombing of Tel Abyad, the city across the Turkish border, on second day of Turkish military operations against Kurdish fighters; Caption 3: Elif Aksoy, 13, (second from right) cries, as a mortar landed near her family’s store, wounding everyone in the store, including her father, brothers, and sisters. 

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