Prominent Turkish journalist receives Harvard journalism award
ISTANBULRenowned Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal received the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism in a ceremony held at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University on March 12.
In December 2014, the Nieman Class of 2015 chose Cemal in recognition of his long career dedicated to championing freedom of the press in Turkey.
In his acceptance speech, Cemal mainly focused on the restrictions on press freedom in Turkey, while directly naming President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the reason for Turkey moving into a “civilian despotism.”
“He [Erdoğan] is a man who could have led Turkey into the family of democracies, but who is now leading it back to the wilderness. We are moving from a system of ‘military bureaucratic tutelage’ to a system of ‘civilian despotism.’ And all this is called by his partisans, the new Turkey and even a ‘people’s revolution,’” said Cemal during his speech.
Indicating that Turkish journalists were not able to do their jobs properly, Cemal gave examples of the current situation of the press in the country.
“I come from a country where a journalist was arrested and her mobile phone and computer seized because of a single tweet; a country where, for that single tweet, she faces five years in prison. I come from a country where a prime minister has declared social media to be a social menace. I come from a country where Twitter and YouTube were banned by government fiat,” Cemal said.
Cemal said no matter how hard and harsh the conditions in Turkey were, journalists would continue to ask questions.
“But journalists will continue to ask questions. No dictator can divest journalists of this democratic right,” Cemal said.
Cemal also referred to the events that led to his dismissal from the newspaper where he had worked for 15 years in 2013, criticizing Erdoğan who was the prime minister at the time.
“I come from a country where all a prime minister has to do is pick up the phone for a news item to be spiked, or a journalist fired. This is a land where the prime minister can even decide who will or will not appear on a talk show. I come from a country where a prime minister can scold a newspaper owner down the phone about an article he published to such an extent that he reduced the man to actual tears,” said Cemal detailing Erdoğan’s role in his dismissal.
Cemal, who is the author of 12 books, has served as a reporter, editor and columnist at various Turkish news organizations. He resigned from daily Milliyet in 2013 after Erdoğan publicly criticized a column he wrote in defense of the paper’s reporting of sensitive negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Cemal resigned after Milliyet allegedly decided not to publish his columns with similar content.
More recently, he helped found and serves as the president of Punto24, a nonprofit initiative aimed at promoting editorial independence, journalistic practice, and the use of digital media in Turkey. He now writes a column for the Turkish news website called T24.