Journalism in the war of barricades and ditches

Journalism in the war of barricades and ditches

In the southeast of Turkey, it is very difficult to do journalism and report from the regions where curfews have been imposed. Reporters do not have free access to the front lines of the barricades and ditches; they also do not have the means to cross to the other side. 

When the blockade is not overcome, then fundamental journalistic information based on questioning, research and observations are replaced by only the official statements and the non-official briefings of security forces. Having only one news source is no doubt risky for the journalist. 

We do not know how long these operations and bans that have been in effect for five months will continue. To make an account of the reporting done since, here is a self-analysis of our daily Hürriyet stories during this period. 

The success of the operations: The Office of the Chief of General Staff regularly announces the number of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists that have been neutralized (killed or injured). The success of the operations are based on these numbers and the percentage of the clearance of the barricades. However, there is confusion from time to time. While the interior minister said 3,000 terrorists have been killed, doing the addition on the figures in military statements brings it to the hundreds. The last total was 296. There have not been as many PKK funerals as the officially announced figures. We don’t know if they were buried secretly or not.

Shared sorrows: The problems of the civilian population during the operations and curfews are carried to the front pages at times through things such as the closing of shops, the moving of the population, their return, doctors’ calls for help, photos of streets and fires. Military operations are covered more than the suffering of the civilians, that’s true. It is necessary to focus on sufferings and shared pain. 

Civilian losses: News about martyrs and martyr funerals are covered widely. Their titles are sentimental, focusing on human stories and lives interrupted. In the case of the loss of civilian lives, the language is colder: “Two dead in Diyarbakır.” The loss of civilians is covered minimally, but there are examples when civilian deaths are on the front page. 

Cause of death: One other problem is the ambiguity of how the civilians have died. It is not known whether the mortar shells and sniper shots are coming from the terrorist side or the security forces. 

Photos with blood: We do not print bloody images that would multiply the horrifying effect of terror. Pictures of bodies are not used except for rare cases when the body is seen from afar. 

Military methods and arms: Military methods and weapons stand out in stories. Operations are covered. However, the terror and the Kurdish issue are intertwined in the region. Praise for weapons and military equipment is sometimes exaggerated. 

Photos distributed: While photos provided by the security forces are printed, their sources should be cited. Soldiers and police distributing bread and food to people should be supported by facts such as how many people live in the area and how many loaves of bread were distributed, etc. 

Objective reporting: The statements from Kurdish politicians are reported with an objective language but are sometimes accompanied by sarcastic and accusatorial headlines. The claims of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are included alongside official statements. 

Embedded journalism: It was important for journalism that İsmet Berkan and Sebati Karakurt entered Sur district with the special permission of the Diyarbakır governor. It provided a look at the banned region through the window of the security forces. Which was good. But we should not have been satisfied by that window only. What is happening on the other side of the barricades, especially in the living conditions of the civilians, should also have been reflected.  

Contradicting information: Casualty figures have always been problematic in military operations. 

As a result, while villages were burnt down in the 1990s, the mainstream media ignored it and supported military methods. But this has not contributed to a solution. The media should not repeat the same mistake today. It should focus on the long-term consequences of the barricade-ditch war and curfews. It should steer toward peace journalism to avoid fractures between Kurds and Turks and to attain social peace. It should be keen on questioning, researching, objective observations and reflecting different and, importantly, opposing views. Most significantly, it should focus on the shared sorrows of the people…