Hürriyet is one of the last remaining, loud voices in Turkey
KAI DIEKMANN*When, on the evening of 8 September, 2015 Sedat Ergin stormed into the live TV show of CNN Türk in Istanbul, the viewers held their breath. He said:
“We are under Attack.”
The editor-in-chief of Hürriyet did not mean that in principle – in the sense of the freedom of the press is under attack, or the freedom of the word, freedom of opinion, or the editors’ right to criticize what they think is going wrong.
He did not mean that – even though that was true as well.
Sedat Ergin meant exactly what he was saying, live in front of the camera.
At that very moment, an angry mob of supporters of the Islamic-conservative governing party AKP tried to storm the office building of Hürriyet in Istanbul.
The attackers had arrived in trucks. They had stones and wooden slats. They shouted Allahu Akbar and praised the Turkish President.
They quickly managed to overpower the few helpless police officers at the entrance. The editorial staff’s office was about to be taken over.
In the last second, the private security guard managed to shut the entrance door behind him.
An attack went unpunished
The only chance of calling for help that Sedat Ergin could see was CNN Türk’s live broadcast that was being recorded in the building next door. He did not do this for the publicity, it was an act of necessity!
After painfully long minutes, finally more police officers arrived.
Only two days earlier, 200 AKP supporters had already stormed the Hürriyet premises and smashed the windows. The brutal attack on the newspaper had, however, no consequences.
There was no official condemnation of the attack by the government, no sign of regret, no sign of solidarity and sympathy, no support for the press, which – by law – is supposed to be free in Turkey, too.
One of the protest leaders, an AKP politician, can be seen on a video, saying: “We are to blame for not giving Sedat Ergin a beating when we should have.”
There was no investigation against the politician.
Quite the opposite: he was promoted.
Now he is the Deputy Minister for Sports and the Youth. This officially makes him a role model.
An award well-deserved
I am very happy that Sedat Ergin is being honoured with the Freedom of Speech Award today.
We have to congratulate “Deutsche Welle” for their decision and be grateful for it.
There could hardly have been a more worthy winner of the award.
Sedat Ergin is not only a man of great character.
He is not only an outstanding journalist with 40 years of experience, and he is not only a great editor-in-chief.
He is also a courageous man. He has always been.
So I am delighted, and very grateful, that Deutsche Welle has asked me to give this laudatory speech today.
Not only because Turkey is a place where I, and my family, have spent much time over the years.
But also because – as a board member – I have enjoyed close ties with my colleagues from Hürriyet since 2004.
A dangerous post in Turkey
It is dangerous to be an editor-in-chief in Turkey – it always was. One of Sedat Ergin predecessors was murdered. Sedat Ergin himself is now in danger of losing his freedom.
In Istanbul, he is being tried for insulting the Turkish President.
Hürriyet was said to have quoted the President in an mistakable way on its online site. The newspaper promptly apologized for that.
Still, a trial against editor-in-chief Ergin began.
If he were to be judged guilty, he would face four years of prison.
Let me repeat this, in order to let the injustice, that our colleagues are subjected to, sink in:
After two violent attacks with stones and clubs on his editorial staff, the editor-in-chief is now facing four years in prison. Four years because of one article.
When the trial began, Sedat painted a gloomy picture: “The freedom of the press in Turkey in 2016 is limited to court house corridors.”
With 360,000 daily copies, Hürriyet is the leading medium for the secular centre of Turkish society.
The Hürriyet editorial staff and their brave publisher Mrs. Vuslat Doğan Sabancı have declared that they will not back down. They will not be shut up, they will carry on despite everything.
It was on that same morning that Mrs. Doğan and her three sisters joined arms together surrounded by Sedat Ergin and hundreds of journalists in the name of freedom and democracy to protect the very foundation that their father Aydın Doğan built over the last many decades in Turkey and for Turkey.
This act of courage by the four Doğan sisters is in so many ways only possible because of the stance that is central to Mr. Aydın Doğan's love for his country, Turkey.
Sedat Ergin and his colleagues want to continue reporting: objectively, liberally, independently. Just as Hürriyet has been doing for 70 years now.
One reason for their determination is also that Sedat Ergin is not the only one threatened with imprisonment.
His predecessor and BILD columnist, Ertugrul Özkök, is also being tried because of supposedly insulting the president.
Journalism at risk
For us journalists in Germany, it is important and correct to criticize politics and is representatives. But let’s be honest: what do we journalists risk in doing so in this country? Fortunately for us: nothing. Absolutely nothing.
But only three flight hours away from Berlin or Bonn, every day in Turkey journalists risk: Everything.
This drastically shows us what a valuable and noble good the freedom of the press is.
Our Turkish colleagues risk their jobs, their physical integrity, their health, their freedom. They risk their lives. Colleagues like Sedat Ergin.
Let’s take a look at the facts:
The fact that the Doğan Media Group - who is publishing Hürriyet - were pressured with a tax fine of approximately 2.5 billion dollars in 2009 is perhaps the most explicit proof of the price the Doğan group has paid for independent journalism. This unfounded demand for fines was big enough to make it into the Guinness Book of Records and is exceeding the value of the total assets of the group.
The independent organization “Reporters without Borders”-ranking of freedom of the press has Turkey in place 151 of 180 countries. This is a drop of 53 places in last 10 years.
Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan was beaten up by four men in front of his house. Three of them were AKP members. Hakan had to go to hospital with a broken nose and broken ribs. For two weeks before the attack, he had been asking for police protection – in vain.
Some Newspapers are controlled by so called state “kayyum” – mandatory custodians. Formerly critical and independent papers suddenly praise the political conditions in their country after the custodians have taken over.
George Orwell couldn’t have imagined it any better.
Between 2011 and 2014 there were over 150 gag orders in Turkey.
The Greek photographer Giorgos Moutafis was not allowed to enter Turkey when working for BILD.
At the airport, he was detained for 12 hours and then sent back. He was told that he was “on a list”.
He never learned what kind of list this was supposed to be. But non-existing transparency is the opposite of rule of law. ARD correspondent Volker Schwenck and other journalist were also rejected at the Turkish borders.
According to a record of the Turkish Journalists’ Union, 247 journalists who reported about the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul in 2013 were fired.
Let us also not forget Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet. He was condemned to almost 6 years in prison – and his colleague Erdem Gül to five years – the accusation: publishing secret documents.
So what now? What’s the solution? What should we do?
A people deserving free press
It is not quite correct to claim that Germany or the EU do not criticize the harassment of our Turkish colleagues.
Yes, there is criticism. But is it actually loud enough, given the incredible injustice that we are witnessing?
Germany and the European Union have to ask ourselves: are we too lenient with NATO member and eternal EU membership candidate Turkey for pragmatic reasons?
And we have to face the ugly question: has Europe become susceptible to blackmail because of the refugee deal with Turkey?
To what degree is the European Union now in the hands of the Turkish government, if it is no longer possible for the EU to take a stand and to set a clear and loud sign for the value of the freedom of the press and the freedom of opinion?
A sign addressed to all of those who do not care for this value. A sign supporting all of those who desperately fight for their rights in Turkey.
Germany and the European Union have a duty:
We must not tire of addressing the terrible state of the freedom of the press and opinion in Turkey. We have to do this in no uncertain manner.
Hürriyet is one of the last remaining, loud voices in Turkey. It is the burning torch of freedom; one of the last bastions of the free word.
The people in Turkey deserve a free and independent press.
And the journalists deserve to be sure that they are not risking prison as soon as they have typed their first sentence.
By the way “Hürriyet” means: freedom. Currently, this name is not a description of reality. It is rather a reminder of – and a hope for – better times.
As long as Sedat Ergin and his courageous editors continue their work and will not be silenced, I do not want to give up my hope that there will be better times in Turkey again.
Let us do everything to make sure that the loud voices of our courageous colleagues will never fall silent.
Dear Sedat, you at Hürriyet can be very proud of yourselves.
My deepest congratulations.
*Kai Diekman is the publishing editor of Bild.