The myth of ‘arrested journalists’ in the UK
I had a long interview the other day in London with the new deputy chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Numan Kurtulmuş. Kurtulmuş has totally harmonized with the AK Party and has studied his lessons very well. He was participating in various activities and was conducting a serious of interviews and meetings especially on the economy. He was also prepared for the topic of “press freedom” that he assumed would be frequently asked while in the United Kingdom. He had spoken to the relevant ministries in Turkey and prepared his answers. As a matter of fact, he started with the inquiry about whether journalists in Turkey were actually journalists, then he mentioned arrested journalists in the U.K., saying there were 45 journalists currently under arrest in Britain.
You know, there is such a “myth” that is circling in Ankara. It is not Numan Kurtulmuş who brought up this claim. At the summit of the state, the issue of jailed journalists in the U.K. is being used frequently to mitigate the topic of journalists under arrest in Turkey.
It is difficult not to be appalled as a journalist living and working in the U.K. in recent months. Because if there was such a thing, then it means we have missed a huge story. For this reason, our producer in the U.K., İldem Wilson, and I went after this issue of arrested British journalists.
First we looked into any possible Irish Republican Army (IRA) connection. Was there any journalist arrested in the U.K. connected to IRA activity? We spoke to Shaun Tracey, Sinn Fein’s press officer in Dublin. He said he did not have any information about any journalists jailed due to their IRA connections.
Then we asked the press office of the British Justice Ministry to be sure. We received the following answer: “We do not keep such a number. We do not categorize those in jail according to their professions. Being a journalist is not a category for us. How would you define a journalist?”
We called the British National Union of Journalists; they told us none of their members were in jail. We also spoke to Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey. Gardner said there were some journalists who had ongoing cases against them because of illegal phone tapping but none of them were in jail. Moreover, since he was monitoring Turkey closely, Gardner knew why we were asking the question.
“None of the journalists on trial in the U.K. are being tried related to a crime within the scope of freedom of expression,” Gardner said in short. “Journalists can be tried and sent to jail but these can only be because of crimes such as violence, being a threat to national security or violating individual rights. The situation in Turkey is very different from this. The arrested journalists in Turkey are in jail because of the articles they have published and because of protest rallies they have participated in.
These fall into the category of freedom of expression. In this context, there cannot be any correlation attributed to the journalists being tried on charges of illegal phone tapping, who are not under arrest, and the journalists in Turkey who are being tried while under arrest.”
As you can see, while certain people were citing the example of arrested journalists in the U.K., they are intentionally or unintentionally misleading our guys.
Well, who are these certain people?
We called the national news desk of The Guardian. They told us there were no journalists in the U.K. who were under arrest because of their journalistic activities. They had not run such a story.
Could it be that it was a note from our London embassy?
We called the Office of the Press Advisor and asked openly, “Was it your office who gave the information that there were arrested journalists in the U.K.? Who are those arrested journalists?” No, they also had not passed along any official information about arrested journalists.
That only leaves us Turkish journalists.
When I talked to some journalists based in London, I realized a common complaint. Certain journalists were complaining that stories from London were (intentionally or unintentionally) translated incorrectly from English.
For example, a journalist detained during an interrogation appeared as arrested in the Turkish translation and in the stories in the Turkish press except that there had been a detention but no arrest.
In summary, there are court cases against journalists in the U.K. but there are no arrested journalists. There is a serious translation error that we can sum up as “lost in translation.”
If we need to cite an example to legitimize the existence of arrested journalists in Turkey, the U.K. is unfortunately not only somewhat unsuitable, but absolutely so.
Cüneyt Özdemir is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published March 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.