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Riding the (seismic) wave: The building of a media discourse following a disaster

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This article reviews the Turkish media’s treatment of citizen mobilization following a major earthquake in the Turkey’s Marmara region on 17 August 1999. For the first time in the history of Turkey, large numbers of citizens spontaneously took action to assist the victims, in marked contrast to the quasi-failure of the State to mount an appropriate response to the disaster, thus causing widespread frustration. Using this opportunity, Turkish journalists attributed a symbolic role to the catastrophe (milestone) and to the mass-mobilization (social movement), and constructed a critical discourse on the major issues of the country, calling for substantial change in the social and political order of Turkey. Within this rhetoric, the citizens who were involved in relief work and their ‘obvious’ symbol, the Arama Kurtarma Dernegi/Search and Rescue Association (AKUT), were hailed as the precursors of the expected change. Nevertheless, within a short period of time the media revised their stance and ended their contentions as soon as the State reoccupied the space that it had temporarily left and took control in the disaster zone. In sum, the 17 August earthquake remained another case showing that a single event – whatever its extent – is not an agent of social change by itself.
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Keywords: Turkey; citizen involvement; disaster; earthquake; media; social change; social reality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: AKUT Search and Rescue Association

Publication date: 2015-07-01

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