Media ethics, public responsibility

Media ethics, public responsibility

What should a journalist in any country do if someone comes up with a record of a phone conversation between two individuals? Or what should a journalist do if, for whatever reason, someone provides him or her with a list of thousands of names alleged to have been officially wiretapped with permission from a court?

These and similar questions ought to be answered within the scope of the ethics of the journalism profession, as much as under the existing laws. Is it reasonable to accept a court with a trivial pretext such as “possible membership of a terrorist gang” to order the tapping of thousands of people’s phones, including ministers, undersecretaries, director generals, intellectuals, and senior journalists? Is not such a court order a clear violation of freedom of expression, as well as abuse of power? Will it be a crime for a journalist to report that massive phone tapping incident? What if, to avenge the release of the list of wiretapped people, some people dueling with the political authority in that country release the recording of an alleged conversation between the prime minister and his son, in which the former instructs his son to hide an incredible amount of money in his, as well as several other family members’, houses? Would it be a crime, or a violation of professional ethics, if a journalist reports that issue, thinking there is public benefit in exposing such graft.

In any case, even if it is not a crime under laws – and it is a crime in Turkey – it is not ethically correct to report illegally wiretapped conversations between a father and his children, even if that father is a prime minister, alleged by opponents to be involved in a massive graft. On the other hand, under the rules of journalism, if there is public benefit in a development, that development must be reported. Is it not in the public interest to expose graft or suspected graft, even if the evidence is illegally obtained?

This country was turned into a battleground after the 2007 elections. First the government and its Islamist allies hunted the Kemalists, the secularists and the critics of the ruling party. Then, perhaps assuming the military, academia and all other secular and non-secular opponents were sufficiently domesticated, the ruling party started consolidating its power, parting from its coalition partners headed by the Islamist Fethullah Gülen fraternity. Thus, yesterday’s allies gradually became diehard opponents. In the fight against Kemalists and secularists, the government used the “enhancing democracy” demagogy, but in attacking the Gülen fraternity it needed some new bullets. However, old sins were revealed in the battle, and the government publicly conceded that many people were sentenced with fake or manipulated evidence, and of course placed the responsibility on the Gülenists.
Now, is it ethically correct to count the bullets fired by the government and the fraternity in this war of attrition? The bullets are, of course, the revealed wrongdoings, for example the order of a pro-Gülen judge to wiretap thousands of prominent people, politicians, journalists or the voice recording of the premier allegedly ordering his son to hide $1 billion in the residences of family members?

By the way, the $4.5 million confiscated in shoe boxes in the house of the general manager of a state-owned bank in the Dec. 17 operation was released by the new judge of the case. I understand now better why so many prosecutors, policemen have been replaced, why laws are being amended in haste, why we have a new Internet law, why we have a new law on the Judges and Prosecutors High Board, and why we are now amending the law on the national intelligence organization…