‘Freedom of press in Turkey getting axed’

‘Freedom of press in Turkey getting axed’
Journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper were acting in the interest of Turkey when they published news about the Turkish government’s illegal activities in Syria, Turkish journalist Pelin Batu told RT.

Two leading Turkish journalists from the liberal Cumhuriyet newspaper were arrested Tuesday. The editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara correspondent Erdem Gul were accused of assisting terrorists after publishing photos of weapons that were supposedly being transported to Syria by Turkish intelligence.

RT: Why are these people in the dock for simply doing their jobs?

Pelin Batu: This past May [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan was on live television and the president said Can Dundar – he named  the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet in person -  saying that they are going to pay heavily for what they did and he called what they did -  which is journalism – “espionage and treason”. The reason why he called this piece of journalism “espionage” is because the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet published a news piece, and this news piece revealed that the government was sending arms to radicals in Syria. Now, when this news broke the people in the government claimed that they are sending medicine and such things to civilians. But they published photographs proving that underneath this medicine were heavy arms.

Once this was published in the newspaper, Erdogan and his acolytes then said: "So what if it’s arms?" – this is one of the statements that was issued a couple of days ago. He said: “So what if these are arms, we’re helping out the Turkmens in the region.” The point being, he said it doesn’t matter... Well, if it is ‘so what?’ then what these journalists did can be retorted as such too. I was in court from 10 o’clock [yesterday] morning – they [are] still in court. At this point we don’t know if they are going to be arrested. We’re waiting.

RT: In your opinion, have these journalists in any way illegally crossed the line, have they gone too far in trying to get their story?

PB: I spoke to their lawyers, and both Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the Ankara correspondent, at court today. What they said was very simple. They said: “We’re pacifists, we don’t want any involvement in war, we don’t want to poke our noses into any country’s business, and what our government did was just that.  We were actually being patriotic when we basically decided to publish this news.” So in my opinion, and as a journalist who has worked with them for many years now, I have collaborated with Can Dundar on many works – be it on television or this very newspaper - I personally believe that it was done in the interest of the country. Mind you, for the past year or so the freedom of press has been axed in so many ways, and this, in my opinion, was one of the biggest pieces of news, and that’s why it’s been awarded many international awards in the past year.

Not only Can Dundar and the newspaper, but myself too – I’ve always believed that our involvement in Syria needed to be brought into question. So yes, I don’t see that this crosses any border or that this can be judged as being treacherous in any way.

Cumhuriyet’s journalists performing their duties 

Freelance journalist, Natalie Carney said that journalists from Cumhuriyet newspaper accused by Erdogan of treason were doing their job and alerted the public of what was going on in Turkish policy. 

RT: In your opinion, did the newspaper breach any journalistic standards with its coverage of alleged Turkey arms supplies to jihadists?

Natalie Carney: Well, it wasn’t the only newspaper in Turkey that covered that story. Shortly after they broke the story, the Cumhuriyet, there was a media blackout on the story. So basically the government is saying: “No more people can report on this issue.” They’ve done it with other very sensitive stories as well here in Turkey, which is rather peculiar for a country that says they are free and fair...

RT:  It is strange that these two guys were called first as witnesses in this case, and suddenly they found themselves in the dock themselves. Wasn’t that surprising and really quick? 

NC: Not really, to be quite honest. I mean they knew when they published the story that it was going to be incredibly sensitive, and they knew that something might arise from this as it did. They were quickly called by the prosecutors to come to testify in the court. Thereby, the whole chain of events did follow through.

But they do stand by their position that they were only doing their job. And their duty as journalists is to alert the public of what is going on. Can Dundar, the chief of editor of Cumhuriyet today, speaking to the press after testifying and being in the court for two hours, said specifically that “the reason we published this story was very obvious: the public has the right to know… if the country is committing a crime.” And he continued to express that it is a duty of the journalist to expose any crimes no matter who is committing these particular crimes. This, however, does not seem to be the position the government holds...

RT: Your colleague Pelin Batu said that judges are promoted cracking down on anti-government journalists.  Do you think judges are under the pressure of the government, or are they above that kind of coercion?

NC: Well, there is a big question there about how free and independent the judicial system is here. Turkey does have a lot of grip – the government has a lot of grip - on all aspects of Turkish society and the structure of it... I can say it is becoming tighter just by seeing the higher frequency of journalists that are being questioned for their work.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.