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Turkolmez: Americans need to consume more foreign news

Emre Turkolmez, Op-Ed Contributor

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While globalization seems inevitable, the knowledge Americans have of other nations reads as highly insufficient. This may be due to the geographic distance between the U.S. and other countries. Or, as a Global Media Journal article states, “the result of American arrogance and self centeredness” or “a parochial journalism profession that focuses on domestic news and entertainment and pays attention to the rest of the world only when happenings there effect America.” Regardless, it reflects a lack of substantive education and news coverage concerning international affairs in this country.

This is not just an individual problem — the Times Higher Education describes how this gap creates the danger of “being educationally and economically handicapped in an increasingly interconnected and global economy.” The interconnected nature of currencies, highly globalized trade and the increasing importance of international diplomacy foreshadows the need of knowledge on a global scale, no matter what career path one pursues.

The lack of international news coverage is one thing that leads to the lack of international knowledge among Americans. It is rare to find news about overseas events, with the exception of the most gruesome stories in places such as Syria or areas that already feature high U.S. involvement, such as Israel. News organization Truthout, while summarizing the 2013 annual Tyndall Report — a journalism newsletter that analyzes newscasts — stated: “Latin America, most of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia apart from Afghanistan, and virtually all of East Asia — despite growing tensions between China and Washington’s closest regional ally, Japan — were virtually absent from weeknight news programmes of ABC, NBC, and CBS.”

Combined, the three aforementioned major networks covered international stories for about 25 percent of their total air time, yet this includes coverage focused mainly on U.S. foreign policy. The possible U.S. intervention in the Syrian Civil War and its debate constitutes 3.5 percent of the 25 percent mentioned above. When other major stories — like the death of former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela (1.5 percent) and the birth of Prince George of Cambridge (1 percent) — are also taken out from this number, the 10 percent left for international news is miniscule.

American students can hardly be expected to educate themselves about the nuances of international politics when U.S. news channels, a major factor in access to information, fail to widely cover international news. And when they do, it is “often biased,” as a Global Media Journal article claimed in 2009.

Students can start to remedy this by seeking news sources that are more internationally focused, like Al Jazeera, BBC or Bloomberg or other similar organizations. But we should also push more U.S. news sources to finally cover the kinds of issues that are important to the world at large. There are countries at war, unbeknownst to many, while U.S. cable news channels spend so much time on dissecting every last tweet from President Donald Trump.

A global literacy study conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations, surveying 1,203 students aged 18 to 26 at U.S. colleges and universities, revealed that 43 percent of American students surveyed get most of their news from Facebook. Social media can be a highly unreliable source of information, as it often quickly becomes an echo chamber of people who share similar values and interests. If very few of our Facebook friends are well-versed in international current events, such stories will thus rarely show up on our feeds due to Facebook’s algorithms that steer us toward our own ideological preferences.

Not only do American news outlets have a lack of coverage in foreign news, but the coverage they have lacks depth and quality. I’ve gone through a plethora of articles on CNN’s website about the coup in Turkey. A CNN article written based on an outsider source, a business owner from the United Arab Emirates who happened to be in Istanbul during the attempted coup, said groups of people were marching down Istiklal Road to acknowledge their collective strength to overthrow the military coup. The fact that CNN used a business owner from a country other than Turkey to report on a complex political event there is extremely problematic. Even though there were groups of people at that location marching, the context and reasoning behind the marches were largely misinterpreted by CNN.

However, after watching Turkish news channels, one would likely conclude (or at least learn) that people flooded the streets upon hearing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan give a speech to the public in 2016 saying that the people of Turkey should go out and fight against, roughly translated, “the rebellions who are trying to disregard our democracy.” The reason behind the marches was not that the Turkish community was acknowledging their collective strength; rather, Erdogan’s fervent supporters were blindly following his words. This behavior is comparable to that of the majority of Americans who seem to support Trump without giving considerable thought to his policy stances, and it was not included in CNN’s coverage of the coup at all. The same night, President Erdogan barely escaped capture by the military twice, which many Turkish journalists believed to be orchestrated. Unsurprisingly, I hardly saw this in any American news coverage of the event. This is only one example of how news coverage incorrectly shapes the perception of a major international issue.

While the nuances of a military coup in Turkey — or any international event — may not initially seem relevant to the American community because it does not occur within this nation’s borders, global literacy matters. Non-Americans know more about current events in the U.S. — and countries other than their own — than Americans know about news from other countries. Within a rapidly globalizing world, this lack of knowledge will hinder everyone’s capacity to handle international issues.

Emre Turkolmez is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at emreturkolmez2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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