What is a journalist or who is a journalist? This is an explosive question in Turkey, as not only the government but a large section of the Turkish media as well make such a description of journalists that only monkeys could perhaps appreciate it. It is as if being a journalist necessitates licking boots, particularly those of the president and the prime minister.
Many journalists, caught between their stomach and the will of the publisher, or worse, the dictate of the political authority on his/her publisher, have become some sort of scrivener if not what I describe as a “‘he said’ journalist,” who place a microphone in front of someone, record what is said, transcribe it and write without making any contribution or expending any effort to verify what’s said. During a recent conference at a journalism school, a student asked how I would describe an “investigative journalist.” Can there be a non-investigative journalist?
Another student asked why many journalists were constantly criticizing everything. Well, journalists don’t criticize, they report. It is writers or columnists who write their own assessments and thus criticize developments. A journalist must avoid using his/her subjective evaluation of the development. Yet, being critical or having a critical eye, looking behind and underneath everything and exploring whether there might be some other ways of presenting that same issue are things that journalists ought to consider part of the job. After all, is not journalism some sort of public duty because it is the watchful eye of the general public?
Watching Thursday two not so grown-up “screen fighters” – I would not call them journalists as that would be an insult to those who have spent their life in honorably conducting this profession – I was shocked to see how they were engaged in provocations, mudslinging and targeting other journalists.
It has always been a problematic area in Turkey about describing fallen soldiers and police and the people rebelling against the state who are killed. Apparently, it has become some sort of crime not to describe soldiers, police or others killed by terrorists as “martyrs” while insisting on not using the description of “terrorists” for people who have taken up arms against the state in what might be considered a treacherous attitude.
In my column, I have the liberty of calling separatist terrorists as such, but in news stories, the situation ought to be different. Even if “We are for the state and for the territorial and national integrity of this country,” it might be that the motto of a newspaper and the decent conduct of journalism prohibits labeling people with adjectives that are subjective. Is it not a fact that the terrorist of one might be the freedom fighter of another? Second, does it indeed matter how you refer to him after that young boy – in a military outfit, in the khaki dress of the gang or in a typical villager outfit – lost his life so young?
Journalists targeting journalists, those in responsible positions making targets out of journalists by constantly blaming them for everything that has gone wrong because of the wrong policy decisions they undertake in the first place… In the August report of the Press for Freedom (PfF) Project of the Ankara Association of Journalists – of which this writer is the coordinator – it was underlined that rather than constantly creating devils from members of the media, the government, civil service and local officials should take measures to facilitate the activities of the media, as the right to be informed is a constitutional right of citizens.
Creating terrorists out of journalists, political opponents, businessmen or virtually anyone who dares to criticize or say something different than the president or the Pinocchio premier cannot be a healthy psychology at all. Can it be sane in any part of the world if a lousy, tiny newspaper reporting nothing but engaged all the time in bootlicking makes some bold allegations on its front page regarding charges that have already been dismissed by the courts and a junior prosecutor takes on the flagship of Turkish media, charging its publisher with abetting terrorism? Can it be sane if people constantly occupy the airwaves and engage in mudslinging without any concrete evidence? Why don’t any of those officious prosecutors step in, and rather than open spurious court cases based on those claims, ask these gentlemen to verify their charges?
As stressed in the PfF report for August, is it sane if 21 journalists face a total of 157.5 years in jail due to the photographs and news articles concerning the murder of Prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz? Or, is it sane to expel foreign journalists, restrict the access of journalists to news with an accreditation process, place settlements off limits to the media for more than a week and, with an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, force journalists to succumb to censorship – or worse, apply self-censorship?
In the last three months, the contracts of almost 300 journalists have been terminated. Access to 123 websites including news portals, 177 Twitter accounts, eight Facebook pages and one YouTube channel has been blocked.
Can this be a photograph of democracy?