Netherlands: PR campaign for Turkish journalists backfires

Netherlands: PR campaign for Turkish journalists backfires

Turkish TV recently broadcast as report about the Netherlands. The report was about the growing Islamophobia and the rise of Geert Wilders. In the report, a Turkish-Dutch complained about discrimination on the job-market. "They prefer taking a Dutchman, even if you're highly educated and better than the Dutchman," the man said. "The Dutch are more radical than in the past," according to another. A third warned of ethnic violence. He called the Netherlands and the rest of Western Europe a 'powder keg'.

The Turkish reporter explained that anti-Muslim feelings are growing in Europe. "The Netherlands is one of the country where you most strongly feel hostility towards immigrants," the journalist said.

The critical report on Turkish TV was, remarkably enough, the result of a public diplomacy operation by the Dutch government. Police makers in the Hague are concerned about the effect of the anti-Islam mood in the Netherlands on the relations with the Muslim world. In order to polish the Dutch image, the government is undertaking various PR operations and organizes trips to the Netherlands for journalists from Muslim countries. Earlier this month a group of Turkish journalists was brought to the Netherlands.

"We explained to them that Wilders is not in the government and that his ideas about Islam are not the standpoints of the government," says an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Turkish journalists met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. Rosenthal explained that Wilders sees Islam as a political ideology, but that his government thinks differently. "We see Islam as a religion," said Rosenthal.

The journalists were told beforehand by the Dutch embassy in Ankara that the visit would be part of a celebration of 400 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey. But the celebration is only in 2012, and during the trip they barely got any information about it. "Nearly all the talks were about Dutch Turks, about the political developments and about Wilders," says Mehves Evin, journalist for the Turkish paper Milliyet. "the Dutch wanted to show in particular how things were going well with the integration of the Turks."

Some of the journalists were left with a bad feeling about the way things were going. "The diplomats only said on the last day of the visit that they wouldn't manage to speak about Wilders," says Deniz Kilislioglu, reporter for CNN Türk. "I'm sorry I hadn't sat more in the back."

It's difficult to estimate the effect of the propaganda-trip. The visit produced some more or less positive reports for the Netherlands. A small English-language Turkish newspaper wrote that the celebration of 400 years of relations in 2012 will promote the integration of the Turkish minority. And the popular paper Millyet published a piece about Dutch coffee-shops. Amsterdam mayor Van der Laan was described there as 'seker gibi adam' ('a man like sugar'), Turkish for a very pleasant man.

But some journalists had their concerns about the growing Islamophobia confirmed. "It's not so complicated, what's happening in the Netherlands," says Sibel Karakuzu, reporter for Turkish state broadcaster TRT. 'The euro has been introduced, there's an economic crisis, and jobs have been lost. It's easiest to point to people who didn't come from your country originally. In the past you had Jörg Haider, now you have Geert Wilders."

Source: Volkskrant (Dutch)