The France-based media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has just issued an interesting brief expressing concern over what the group believes to be increasing pressure against journalists who are covering the Kurdish issue and the escalating conflict between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). From the report:
Pressure is mounting on journalists in eastern Turkey as the government intensifies its military offensive against the armed separatists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an offensive that is spilling over into neighbouring countries.
As well as a spate of trials and cases of prolonged detention, journalists are now the target of government directives. Journalists who cover Kurdish issues critically continue to be accused of supporting the separatists by officials who cite the war on terror as their overriding imperative. And concern is growing that the government is trying to control coverage of its offensive.
Jailed for an interview?
The Turkish judicial system continues to treat the publication of interviews with PKK members as terrorist propaganda, even if they are accompanied by commentary that stops far short of praising the PKK.
Nese Düzel, a journalist with the liberal daily Taraf, and his editor, Adnan Demir, for example, are being prosecuted for two April 2010 reports containing interviews with former PKK leaders Zübeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal. A prosecutor asked an Istanbul court on 14 October to sentence them to seven and a half years in prison. The next hearing in their trial is to be held on 9 December.
Prosecutors at the same court are preparing to try the journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu over a report in Radikal in October 2010 that contained an interview with Murat Karayilan, one of the leaders of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), regarded as PKK’s urban wing.
A seven-and-a-half-year sentence has also been requested for Recep Okuyucu, Taraf’s correspondent in the southeastern province of Batman and editor of the local newspaper Batman Medya. The prosecutor’s office in the nearby city of Diyarbakir claims that he connected 53,848 times to the Firat News Agency website (www.firatnews.org), which the authorities have blocked because they accuse it of relaying PKK propaganda. Okuyucu’s defence is that, as a journalist, he has to check a wide range of websites every day.
RSF's report also takes a look at another disturbing media development, which was the recent announcement made by Turkey's five leading news agencies that they have adopted a set of "common principles" regarding coverage of incident involving the PKK and government forces. The announcement came after those organizations' leaders were called in for a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From RSF:
Several Turkish journalists’ organizations have voiced strong criticism of Prime Minister Erdogan’s meeting with national media owners and executives on 21 October, at which Erdogan urged journalists to show restraint in their coverage of the conflict, to take account of its consequences and to avoid relaying PKK propaganda.
Even more disturbing is the communiqué that five leading Turkish news agencies – AA, AHT, ANKA, CIHAN and IHA – issued jointly on 24 October announcing that, “Common principles have been adopted concerning the coverage of terrorist incidents.”
They said they had undertaken to “take account of public order (...) keep a distance from interpretations that encourage fear, chaos hostility, panic or intimidation (...) not include propaganda for illegal organizations” and, above all, to “comply with the publication bans issued by the competent authorities.” The communiqué also said: “Account will be taken of social utility and solidarity when selecting reports and photos for transmission to subscribers.”
“We had hoped that the era of government directives telling the media how to cover the most sensitive subjects was long over in Turkey,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The very vaguely formulated undertaking by the leading news agencies to toe the official line now poses a serious threat to freedom of information.
The full RSF brief can be found here.
Some Turkish journalists, meanwhile, have criticized the media bosses who attended the meeting with Erdogan, saying they were more eager than the PM to impose constraints on themselves. From Bianet:
Several journalists criticized the closed meeting of Prime Minister Erdoğan with owners and general publication directors of media organizations. Critics said that the non-disclosure of the topics discussed at the meeting was one way to establish pressure that might lead to censorship. Hence, the people's right to information had been restricted, the critics emphasized. "The talks of some newspaper executives expressing themselves as if they were waiting for a directive" was a focal point of criticism.
Yasemin Çongar from Taraf newspaper attended the meeting. In her article entitled "National Journalism and my 'non-national' feelings" she wrote, "Prime Minister Erdoğan thanked for the "full participation".
Çongar continued, "Did any new, constructive, creative idea emerge from the discussion what the media can do on the way to stop the bloodshed and use a language of peace in the name of peace? No."
"The Prime Minister recommended to 'pay attention to the line between the people's right to information and the journalists' duty to inform on one hand and allowing for PKK propaganda on the other hand'. Rather than that I was surprised about the willingness of the journalists regarding censorship by the nation. It was truly breathtaking that more proposals to 'standardize' the media came from the media than from the government".