Reporting Turkey at times of conflict


Not that they needed any more encouragement; the flag-waving editors of Turkey’s main stream media were told this week that their journalism must be patriotic.

On 21 January, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, flanked by the defence minister and the party spokesman, gave a pep-talk to media representatives. Among the 15 recommendations on how to cover military operations in Syria, were the necessity to uphold national interests and to refrain from reflecting foreign criticism of Turkey.

Since the start of Turkey’s incursion into Syria, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, more than 100 people were arrested for “spreading terrorist propaganda” through their comments on social media.

Africa, an opposition newspaper in Northern Cyprus, was attacked the day after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described its headline as “immoral”.

Condemning the increase in censorship in Turkey, Johann Bihr, the head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that the new flood of propaganda, the increase in the witch hunt against critics and the almost complete absence of any debate highlighted the degree to which pluralism has collapsed in Turkey.

Turkey is not the only country where authorities provide guidance about defence and counter-terrorism information to protect national security. Inadvertent disclosure of information could put lives in danger and compromise operations.

In every country, there are either legal obligations or voluntary codes guiding media coverage in times of conflict or natural disaster.

Under international law, countries can restrict or organise journalistic access to information. However, this exercise of power must not be arbitrary. The journalist’s watchdog function and public’s right to receive information do not become any less vital during emergencies.

Yet, today, the debate among Turkey’s journalists is not how to maintain high professional standards for impartial and accurate journalism during time of war; but it is one of survival.

Reporting wars pose the greatest challenge for journalists even in the most ethical media environments. Striving to be accurate and reliable while remaining sensitive to the emotions and fears of audiences is not easy.

In addition to normal ethical considerations, journalists take extra care not to put individuals at risk or cause them unnecessary distress.

Especially, in a country like Turkey, with a conscripted army, where almost every household would have a relative or friend in the armed forces, the job of a journalist becomes even more difficult.

Turkey’s leading media organisations have long abandoned notions of accuracy and impartiality. But in this charged atmosphere of military conflict, they are no longer just passive recruits of the regime; they have now become advocates for war.

Leaders in Turkey do not like their black and white visions of the world to be challenged. They thrive in a carefully orchestrated environment where there is no space for dialogue.  The pro-government media that indulges them with silence and complicity at normal times, turns into a voluntary army of nationalist vigilantes to attack free speech at extra-ordinary times.


This post is also available in: Turkish

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