Who is a journalist?
The New York-based “Committee to Protect Journalists” (CPJ) issued a report Dec. 8 saying, “There are only eight journalists arrested in Turkey,” not counting the 60 journalists in jail as journalists. Apparently, some circles have interpreted this as if the world has lit a green light to send more journalists to prison.
Since those 60 journalists were not journalists according to CPJ, those in power were able to conclude their claim “those journalists were terrorists” was somehow accepted.
As a matter of fact, the CPJ report was used as a reference by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin Dec. 10 in his speech in the parliament claiming the issue of press freedom and arrested journalists was not much of a serious issue. The Justice Minister said, “The CPJ has recognized a connection only in those eight people between the profession of journalism and the reason they were arrested. And no other connection was determined except for these eight.”
Now, the CPJ can gloat. The other day, 29 more journalists were arrested. They were among the journalists who were detained within the context of “cracking down the media leg of the KCK operations,” the KCK being the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The total number of people arrested in the same operation was 36.
Daily Habertürk, which covered the story on its front page, had the full list of journalists together with the media organs where they were working. Other dailies covered the story in inside pages in the most remote places in their papers. None mentioned the 29 arrested were journalists.
They can also gloat.
From Habertürk’s list it was understood the arrested journalists were working for media organs known to be close to the Kurdish movement. And now, the CPJ is in a panic or “turn the cat in the pan.” Because they have in fact put their own selves in a sad situation in terms of their international credibility.
The CPJ issued a statement on the first day of the KCK operation condemning the event and defining the detainees as “journalists.” Two days later the director of CPJ Joel Simon wrote a protest letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referring to the 29 people in detention as “detained journalists.”
Director Simon posted a piece in the CPJ Internet site Dec. 23 aiming to explain their ambivalent stance. The piece titled, “Responding to Turkey’s appalling press freedom record,” has an interesting point in terms of detecting the traces of the question, “Who is a journalist and who is not?” Simon says, “As an organization dedicated to the defense of press freedom, we make a distinction between journalism and political activism.”
In other words, he is defending his organization’s not considering the dozens of journalists in jail in Turkey as journalists over this distinction.
It is all very well, but can a person perform journalism as an expression of political activism? Can the identity of journalism overlap with political activism? It certainly can. What is wrong, in a democracy, with selective reporting in accordance with a certain ideology or a political goal? As long as journalism is done within the framework of the objective rules of journalism. For example, hate crimes are not committed through journalism, as provocation of war and military coups are not done, or praising political violence.
Prosecuting journalism done in line with an ideology or a political aim the government does not like is nothing other than restricting freedom of expression.
Don’t several political activists perform as journalists in today’s pro-Islamic media or the pro-government media, at every level?
According to the CPJ, the number of journalists in jail in Iran is 42, the country that is the “world champion in arresting journalists.” Well, is it possible in Iran to be a journalist without being a political activist? We are talking about a country where real journalism cannot be performed unless one dares arrest, jail, torture and death.
The coalition governing Turkey does not have any intention of solving the Kurdish problem; on the other hand, they want their regime to be respected in the world as democracy. It is impossible to sustain the two forever, but there is a mid-formula. The first clause of which is “to tolerate freedom of the media and opposition media.”
Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet where this piece appeared on Dec. 26. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.