Ankara / Vienna, December 8, 2021
by Edward Steen
If not now, then when? The insufferable behaviour of President Tayyip Erdoğan, would-be sultan of Turkey, has been called out by journalists’ unions led by Prof L. Doğan Tılıç, the AEJ’s man in Ankara. One by one, Erdogan has, over a few years, suborned most of the Turkish media. But there turn out to be sparks of life – actually an angry fire.
Unlike Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, humiliated by President Erdoğan on her April outing to Ankara, the unions of independent journalists have kicked over the government sofa on which for years they have been expected to sit quietly and ask only officially-dictated questions. Or face the consequences.
Below is the joint statement – under the title of WHAT DOES THE ANSWER MEAN WHEN THE ‘QUESTION’ HAS NO VALUE? – by Turkish media organisations following what Dogan calls “an interesting, tragic (for journalism) event”.
Questions and the names of the persons who would ask the questions had been publicised just five minutes before an Erdoğan press conference, he writes, “a practice already very familiar to all of us. Erdoğan’s Press Office writes down the questions and gives them to the journalists to ask Erdoğan in the press conference. This time someone from the Press office obviously leaked it.
“And we made the statement below:
The authoritarian understanding, which it has been attempted for a long time to make permanent in Turkey for a long time, has again manifested itself through our profession, journalism.
The AKP government, which controls most of the media, took the accreditation practice, which it has been increasingly spreading, to another dimension during the statement made by AKP President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at Esenboğa Airport before his visit to Qatar.
Press conferences held by high-level state officials before boarding the plane ahead of almost every trip abroad were also held before President Erdoğan’s visit to Qatar. Erdoğan went before the members of the press to answer the “questions” posed to him. There was an “embarrassment” on behalf of our profession in the questions section of the meeting, where only the members of the press working in pro-government media and operating under the guidance of the government were present.
The anti-press freedom practice, which determines that the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications organizes questions to be put to Erdoğan at these and similar meetings, was discovered by the newspaper Yeniçağ before his visit to Qatar.
Yeniçağ’s report Leak of questions given to journalists to ask Erdoğan before his visit to Qatar was published just before the press conference, and indicated who would ask Erdoğan which question. The media reported that indeed the same questions were posed to Erdoğan.
Erdoğan answered the questions put by Anadolu Agency (AA), Demirören News Agency (DHA), A Haber and CNN Türk as if he was unaware of the questions beforehand. A whole drama was played out in front of millions. It was a ‘safe’ press conference for the government, an ‘accident-free’ meeting for the pro-government press, but revealed the disgrace of journalists whose job is to report on behalf of the public.
This tragicomic situation in the name of journalism, of those who try to position journalism on the side of their power, even see it as an extension of their own power, and those who pave the way for this under the guise of being the ‘media establishment’, merely reflect their own desperation. Journalists who speak on behalf of the people and the truth will never be in those halls or on those planes where a play is being performed.
Neither the ‘questions’ they pose nor the ‘answers’ they receive have any value. Indeed they render questions – one of the reasons for our profession to exist at all – entirely worthless.
G-9 JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS’ PLATFORM
Association of European Journalists (AEJ) Turkey Representation; Press and Communication Workers’ Union (HABER-SEN); Progressive Journalists Association (CGD); Turkish Press and Press Employees’ Union (DİSK BASIN-İŞ); Parliamentary Correspondents’ Association (PMD); Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS).
I can only echo the reaction of my Spanish predecessor as Secretary-General, Miguel Angel Aguilar: “Dear Dogan, your statement is an admirable example of civic journalism. Congratulations!” The AEJ’s special representative for media freeedom, William Horsley, also wrote to him: “Dear Dogan, You are right, this is not a press conference, it is a puppet play! Interesting to see what comments appear in the media and social media about this ‘new dimension’ of absurd controls on press freedom.”
The whole affair has, not for the first time, made Erdoğan appear ridiculous. Nor, by the way, has the Qatar visit yet produced the hoped-for flood of financial support for which Erdoğan hoped.
♦ Report by Turkish Minute
♦ Journalists’ declaration in original Turkish
♦ Can Erdoğan really extract more out of Qatar?
♦ Doğan Tılıç: What is “genuine journalism?”
♦ AEJ visit to Izmir – solidarity with beleaguered colleagues