A journalist in an armored car

A journalist in an armored car

Sitting in a comfortable chair at the former federal German Bundestag in Bonn I was carried away to the Ankara of the 1980s. My dear colleague and friend, Hürriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin, was saying it would never have crossed his mind when Turkey’s accession talks started a decade ago that, as the editor of the biggest newspaper in the country, he would have to go about with a bodyguard in an armored car. I remembered back to the days in the 1980s when the Daily News was attacked by an Islamist mob, after which “extraordinary security measures” had to be deployed for some time.

Still, the Ankara police department did not provide security and instead advised us to take our own “extraordinary” security measures. What measures? “Lucky,” the boss’ German shepherd dog, was given a permanent position at the paper and became our official security. Thank God, nothing more happened and those days passed with no major incident.

Times have changed. Besides, today’s Hürriyet has far bigger opportunities than the Daily News of the 1980s. Instead of “Lucky” – which died in a traffic accident a few years later – Hürriyet is able to provide effective security, including an armored car for its editor. What changed from the Turkey of the 1980s to the Turkey of 2016 regarding the security of journalists? Unfortunately, there has not been much improvement. In the Turkey of the 1980s and 1990s, things were no better. Did we not suffer the sorrow of the heinous murder of Hurriyet editor-in-chief Çetin Emeç and his driver on March 7, 1990? How many times did Emeç’s successor, Ertuğrul Özkök, receive death threats? How many times were Hürriyet buildings fired at? How many hand grenades were found in fields next to the office?

Unfortunately, Hürriyet and the Doğan Group is left as the only mainstream critical news source for Turkish people in its paper and electronic editions, or on its CNN Türk and Kanal D stations. Why else would angry crowds - agitated by a young politician, who was later rewarded with a position as deputy sports minister – attack Hürriyet’s Istanbul headquarters twice last year, smashing the front door and sending out a wave of fear? What would have happened if Sedat had not appeared on CNN Türk pleading for help, compelling the government to send a sufficient amount of police officers to protect journalists (not to tear gas them or beat them up)? What about the mysterious blasting of a window of Hürriyet’s Ankara office building?

Journalism has always been a very challenging job in Turkey. If we set aside the long list of journalists murdered before the proclamation of the republic in 1923, we see that over 80 journalists have died of “unnatural” causes in the years since, mostly while doing their duty. The situation in Syria and the recent execution-style murders of Syrian journalists in Turkish cities are not even included in this figure. 
So who could say that journalism has ever been a comfortable job in this country? If journalism is pursuing the truth behind developments, providing background to it, and presenting it to readers in a comprehensible manner, it can be understood why journalism is today an even more courageous job than ever.

Sedat currently faces up to four years in prison on the grounds that he insulted the president. I don’t think he could be sentenced, particularly after he recently received the prestigious Freedom of Speech Award from Germany’s Deutsche Welle. Anyway, we know that the Turkish judiciary is completely independent and the Turkish government has no control over it. Even if the government wanted to give itself an additional headache, the courts surely wouldn’t indulge in such adventures. Am I wrong?

Recalling that there are currently 37 journalists behind bars in Turkey, and how prominent columnist Ahmet Hakan was attacked last year (ending up with bruises and a fractured rib), Sedat should be thankful that he at least has an armored car and a bodyguard, as well as now a DW award - rather than just a German shepherd.