Journalism taken to court in Turkey, again

Journalism taken to court in Turkey, again

Should a prosecutor watch a television show into which a case has been opened, including as “evidence” a recording of the show?  

According to the prosecutor who opened a case into Hürriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin over “insulting the president,” there was no need to watch the show. The prosecutor filed the indictment based on a story posted on the Hürriyet website headlined: “Dağlıca statement from Erdoğan: If 400 deputies had been won, this would not have happened.” He claimed that this headline was written “despite the fact that President Erdoğan did not say this, and not a word was spoken that could have been interpreted like this.”  

How did the prosecutor reach this opinion? He does not write it openly but the “evidence” he listed in the indictment gives us an idea: “a) The lawsuit petition. b) Printouts of the related website attached to the petition.” The original recording of the A Haber-ATV joint broadcast on Sept. 6, 2015, on which Erdoğan was speaking, is not even including among the evidence. Apparently the prosecutor considered it sufficient to simply read the petition submitted by Erdoğan’s lawyers.

When objections were made to the story and when, due to this story, physical attacks were organized targeting the Hürriyet headquarters, I watched the program again and wrote about it in this column. In the interview, the question about the Justice and Development Party (AKP) winning “400 deputies” came right after Erdoğan’s evaluation of the terror attack at Dağlıca. The last two sentences of Erdoğan’s reply were as follows: “By executing this terrorism, they are benefiting from this situation. But if a political party had won 400 deputies in the election, or if it had won enough to write a new constitution, the situation would be very different today.”

After a break in the show, when Erdoğan was asked to elaborate these words, this time he said: “When such a picture didn’t emerge … From June 7 to today, an environment of chaos has been created in our country.”

As can be seen, Erdoğan did not directly refer to the Dağlıca terror attack with these words. So the interpretation in the headline was wrong. But he did use these words in a wider sense: He expressed the view that if a political party had won 400 deputies in the June 7 election, terrorism incidents and the environment of chaos would not have emerged. 

However, the prosecutor is so sure that those words were not even uttered that not only he did not watch the program, he even questioned the “intention of the story.” “It has been determined that the story was written unrealistically, offensively and incompatible with goodwill,” states the indictment. We do not know whether the prosecutor reached this opinion after reading the lawsuit petition. 

One of the peculiarities in the indictment is the fact that the editor-in-chief of daily Zaman of the time, Ekrem Dumanlı, is also included as a defendant in this case. Apart from publishing stories with similar headlines, there is no concrete reason why Dumanlı and Ergin should be tried together. Nevertheless the prosecutor thought it was appropriate. 

The prosecutor probably thinks Ergin is a regular newspaper managing editor, as the indictment states that “the editor of the newspaper is responsible for published stories and their content.” There is no other explanation concerning Ergin’s responsibility in the indictment. 

Ergin will appear at court on March 25 based on such an indictment. The trial of our colleagues Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who were arrested over the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) truck stories in daily Cumhuriyet, will also start on the same day. In both cases, it is journalism itself that is on trial.