Egypt or Turkey: Journalism is the prime target

What happened with the three al-Jazeera reporters in Egypt goes far beyond a simple display of arrogance and bullying attributed to oppression; it is a huge blow to journalism.

Indeed, June 23 will go down in history as a black day, marking a step toward the criminalization of professional conduct.

“There could be no clearer evidence that Egyptian society is still in a state of civil war than the verdicts which Egyptian judges have been handing down in recent cases, culminating in the appalling miscarriage of justice represented by the sentencing of three al-Jazeera journalists to jail yesterday,” wrote the Guardian in an editorial. ‘The journalists were accused of falsely suggesting that Egypt is a deeply divided nation, yet these perverted verdicts prove just that.

“No matter that the journalists concerned were, according to their professional colleagues, simply reporting what was going on in a professional manner. No matter that there is an important distinction between al-Jazeera’s English service, which aspires to almost BBC-like standards of objectivity, and its Arabic services, which are more biased and critical but still can hardly be accused of attempting to undermine the Egyptian state.

“It may be that President [Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi did not personally signal that he wanted such unfair and harsh verdicts. But he has helped create a them-and-us divide in Egyptian society that has infected the judiciary and produced these travesties of justice.”

As Jodie Ginsburg, chief executive of the Index on Censorship, said, the verdict “tells journalists that simply doing their job is considered a criminal activity in Egypt.”

Prison sentences in Cairo are just the new signs of the times in a geography in which the control over information and the curbing of dissent take larger proportions of the power game. Like Sisi, many leaders in the neighborhood are keen on vilifying journalism, attempting to equate its domain as one with clandestine activities that overthrow regimes. While in Syria and Iraq it is more about physical safety, in other places it is about facing trials for publishing news, running the risk of being targeted as public enemies. It has become particularly dangerous for international media to cover developments as it resembles what happens in domestic media in many countries in the neighborhood.

Hasnain Kazım, Der Spiegel’s Turkey correspondent, is an example. His report from Soma, struck by a mine tragedy, was published under the headline — a quote from a relative of a miner – “Go to hell, Erdoğan,” and he faced a huge hate campaign from Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters. He said he had received more than 10,000 messages, including death threats against him and his family and profane insults, before Der Speigel withdrew him from Turkey out of concern for his safety.

“I received many death threats while working in Pakistan. But over four years I had come to know many people from the Taliban and learned how to deal with the threats. Even the threats there were not as intense and heavy as the ones here,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday.

Turkey’s political environment sends signals to journalists — local and international — that require attention and concern.

One aspect has to do with the release of the Sledgehammer trial convicts. Soon after the top court ruled that due to a violation of rights, there must be a retrial, hysteria broke out, as some columnists started demanding that some of their colleagues at the Taraf daily, which had broken the story with a series of articles, be put on trial. According to them — some pro-government and others militarists in disguise — the case had collapsed entirely, and journalists were responsible for the harm done.

This tells how “ready” some in the Turkish media are to smear each other and “help” the authorities criminalize the very profession they are in. When the Radikal daily stopped publishing its hard copy some days ago, there were also those who applauded the decision, adding joyfully that there will be more to come in terms of closures.

There are also worrisome claims in the media that legal inquiries are under way into more than one media group, as more columnists have been fired.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
This entry was posted in Turkey. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s