The irresistibility of attacking Hürriyet
SEDAT ERGİNI was about to go to bed on Monday evening, March 21, when my cellphone rang at 11:39 p.m. It was Hürriyet’s Washington correspondent Tolga Tanış. He told me that businessman Reza Zarrab, a Turkish citizen of Iranian origin, had been arrested in Florida. When I asked him whether there was documentation confirming this, he told me he would send it immediately.
Indeed, within the next minute or two, the statement from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announcing that Zarrab had been arrested on March 21 by the court after being caught in Florida on March 20, together with the text of the indictment prepared for Zarrab, was on my computer screen. To be on the safe side, I quickly Googled the names on the FBI statement and confirmed that they really were top-level managers. Zarrab’s indictment corresponded one-to-one to the format of many other indictments that I had read in the U.S. before.
There was not even the slightest doubt about the accuracy of the story. I told Tanış to immediately proceed to Florida.
We worked swiftly with our night staff and we were able to place this significant story in the subheading of the front page - the place it deserved - in the city editions of Hürriyet on March 22.
Shortly after the story reached Hürriyet, the FBI statement on Zarrab began circulating on the web. The next day, dailies Habertürk, Sözcü and Cumhuriyet had the arrest story on their front pages.
Tanış was the first Turkish journalist to arrive in Florida for this coverage, thus he was able to obtain Zarrab’s mug shot. He was also able to access new details about the investigation. We printed these stories as they were worthy of printing. For example, we learned thanks to Tanış that the indictment had been prepared three months ago and was sealed. After his assignment in Miami, Tanış returned to Washington D.C.
After this publication, which was carried out completely within the criteria of journalism, Hürriyet and the Doğan Media Group once again became the target of a major smear campaign by pro-government media organs.
This campaign included accusations such as “making an anti-government perception operation,” “targeting the AK Party [Justice and Development Party - AKP] government,” and “launching a dirty game over Zarrab.”
Among these claims, it was even possible to come across this line: “A U.S. prosecutor was activated.” The lightest of this criticism was “conveying an indictment in the U.S., including its closest detail, and publishing its appendixes in overblown coverage.”
There is a huge gap between the dynamics and facts of press coverage that you engage in as a newspaper and the virtual reality that has been created beyond your hold. Somebody who does not have a full grasp of the matter could even get the impression from these publications that Hürriyet and the Doğan Media Group have made a serious error.
However, in Turkey, in 2016, reporting on an important, undoubtedly newsworthy incident that is of close interest to the public in Turkey can immediately make you the subject of a smear campaign.
Apparently, we were expected to simply disregard such a story, to treat the story as if it never happened. In other words, we should have sacrificed our journalism and hidden the stories on Zarrab’s arrest from our readers.
If you follow this logic, I guess our error was probably just being curious and sending our correspondent to the place of the incident...
Hürriyet’s coverage of Zarrab’s arrest in the U.S. fulfilled the most essential requirements of journalism. We acted entirely with journalistic motives. Doing journalism does not amount to an “anti-government effort.” It is out of the question that we would be have such ulterior motives anyway.
We acted exactly the same as we should with such a development - as would be appropriate in any country in the world where the press is free.
We are doing our job. We are trying to do our job in the best way we can. We will continue to do so.