Dispatches from Turkey: What are the penguins about?

Penguins
Eli Duke/Creative Commons/Courtesy

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ISTANBUL, TURKEY — In the frame of the recent protests concerning Gezi Park and civil rights in Turkey, penguins are being used as symbols to criticize the Turkish TV news channel CNN Turk.

The image of the penguin became relevant when police attempted to disperse the protesters gathered at the park with excessive pepper spray and pressurized water and the channel failed to cover the breaking news. And instead, what did CNN Turk have broadcasting? A documentary about penguins.

 

But, what the penguin symbolizes is something larger than immediate public outrage at the police violence. It has become a symbol of the self-censorship of news — an issue which has compelled many people to join the protest. In fact, according to an online poll by Istanbul Bilgi University released last week, about 84 percent of the demonstrators in Istanbul who participated in the poll cited lack of media coverage among reasons for joining the protests.

On Facebook, protest supporters are circulating pictures of penguins holding different slogans, including some that were used during the protest. One of the most frequent images shared is one of a penguin that resembles an average protester, wearing her gas mask and either holding a motto with her uprising hand or just singing and protesting along in the crowd. Others are adapted to the life of penguins in a humorous way. For example, one, which alludes to the police using tear gas against protesters, reads, “Gaz atma buzullar eriyor,” which means “Don’t use pepper spray — the glaciers melt.”

The social and political movement happening in Turkey right now would have been impossible if videos, photos and words had not spread through social media. And even as the protests continue, news about the conditions in certain districts, whether police were attacking or not and the emergency contact numbers have all circulated in supporters’ Facebook statuses and tweets. Social media has proved its power and replaced the regular media during the recent protests in Turkey — mainly because most of the channels weren’t willing to show what was going on with the anti-government protests.

 

 

 

Senem Onen is a student at UC Berkeley. Contact the Opinion desk at [email protected]

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