Journalism in difficult times

Journalism in difficult times

Unfortunately, we are living in a world where journalism is not getting more difficult but more dangerous – to the extent that journalistic associations have launched an award journalists working under difficult circumstances.

Doğan Tılıç is an experienced Turkish journalist (and also a part-time academic on communications) who has been working as the Ankara bureau chief of the Spanish News Agency (EFE) for nearly three decades. He is also active in national and international journalism associations, including leading positions in the Association of European Journalists (AEJ); he received the UNESCO Press Freedom award in 2016.

Tılıç is now among the top three finalists in Spain’s prestigious Cirilo Rodriguez journalism award for 2017, together with EFE’s Istanbul correspondent, Ilya Topper. Other finalists include Carlos Frangillo, the Washington correspondent of TVE who worked for years in Russia before, and El Mundo’s Garcia Prieto, who reported for years from Russia, Israel, Iraq, Syria and Thailand as a woman war reporter.

The awards are scheduled to be delivered in a ceremony chaired by Spanish Queen Leizia on May 26-27. 
Tılıç, who writes columns for Turkish daily BirGün, has reported from the former Yugoslavia (during the civil war), Afghanistan, Iraq and Azerbaijan in addition to Turkey, where he is based.

Speaking of conditions getting more difficult and dangerous…

According to the records of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 13 journalists were killed around the world in the first four months of 2017 as they were trying to do their job: facilitating people’s right to learn the news.

In 2016, that figure was 46, two of whom were in Turkey. Rohat Aktaş of the Kurdish-language newspaper Azadiya Welat was killed after being wounded in clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces in Cizre near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The other colleague was Syrian journalist Zaher al-Shurqat, who was shot in the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border after being shot in the head on the street. The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), or DAESH, claimed responsibility for the assassination.

In 2015, a total of 72 media people were killed; eight of them were during the al-Qaeda attack in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo office. Three of the others were Syrian journalists in Turkey.

Turkey is under more scrutiny because of the jailed journalists, writers and other media employees, which is another field of growing difficulty in terms of the working conditions of media workers.

Also according to CPJ data, 81 or the 259 journalists and other media employees who were jailed around the world are in Turkey. China was second with 38 and Egypt was third with 25. In Turkey’s neighborhood, there are other countries where journalists are put in prison: eight in Iran, seven in Israel, five in Azerbaijan and two in Russia.

The governments of none of those countries, including Turkey, admit that members of the media were put in prison because of what they had written, said or broadcast, but due to charges of terrorism, subversive acts or espionage. Prosecutors open probes on those charges, judges try them on those charges and politicians proudly say they have full respect for media freedom and that the journalists were not arrested because of journalism.

According to data from the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), of which I am a member, 157 journalists and media employers are currently in jail in Turkey.

Among those is Kadri Gürsel, the head of the Turkey branch of the International Press Institute (IPI), of which I am also a member. As a journalist and columnist who has been writing against terrorism and in favor of freedoms, Gürsel is now in jail with 10 other members of daily Cumhuriyet. He is being tried on terrorism charges for allegedly helping two very different illegal organizations: the PKK and the secret network (FETÖ, as the indictments say) of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey. Sedat Ergin, the former editor-in-chief of daily Hürriyet, has been analyzing those charges in indictments one by one as you can read in the Hürriyet Daily News as well.
In difficult times, irrationality has no limits.

Another example is the case of Ahmet Şık.

Şık spent two years in prison because of an unpublished book about the illegal organization of Gülen within the government; something which even President Tayyip Erdoğan was complaining about after the coup attempt. It is now reported by pro-government media that the “plot” which put Şık in jail at that time was instructed by the then-powerful prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, who is now on the run because of his alleged Gülen links. But Şık is again in jail this time on terrorism charges (again) for allegedly “helping” FETÖ, the PKK and also the fringe left DHKP-C, which has been carrying out acts of terror for years.

Will future readers be amazed to read that Gürsel, Şık and others were put in prison as a result of another plot staged by some others prosecutors, judges, police officers and politicians?

There are not only journalists and writers who are facing the consequences of the political atmosphere. Take Barbaros Muratoğlu, for example, the Ankara representative of the Doğan Group of Companies which owns Hürriyet, Hürriyet Daily News, CNN Türk, Kanal D and Posta. In the last two hearings, the prosecutors demanded the release of Muratoğlu due to a lack of evidence of his links to Gülen’s network, but the judges rejected the demand and kept him in prison. This unusual situation raises question marks about the nature of the trial and whether the motivation was legal or political.

The arrest of Deniz Yücel, the Turkish-origin Istanbul correspondent of German newspaper Die Welt, has become the subject of an international row. Whereas President Erdoğan accuses Yücel of being a “spy for the terrorist [PKK] organization,” German President Frank-Walther Steinmeier urges Erdoğan to immediately release Yücel. Actually, both of the leaders are in a way putting themselves in place of the judiciary. Turkey’s judiciary, on the other hand, is on display for everyone to observe and draw their own conclusions.

No one has and should have the privilege of committing a crime and getting away with it – no journalists, soldiers, intelligence officers or politicians. Those who commit a crime should be tried, but in independent and unbiased courts, not through over-extended trials with made-up evidence which turns the arrest period into a punishment itself, as we have seen in recent trials in Turkey over the last 10 years.

Stating that journalists are not being tried because of journalism but because of terrorism cannot heal the wounds of freedom of expression.

What has been done in the field of free media is not right; it must be corrected for the sake of all countries and the sake of the future of their peoples.

We started with the Spanish award to be given to a Turkish journalist, Doğan Tılıç, and we have arrived at this point. Who knows where we’ll go from here.