Civil society and media workers came together for the panel titled “Journalism and Press Freedom in the Shadow of War” which was held in the event location Postane in İstanbul on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day. As World Press Freedom Day on May 3 coincided with a public holiday, the panel was held on May 9. The panel was moderated by Amnesty International Turkey Branch Media Coordinator Fatma Yörür and included the journalists Can Ertuna, Nimet Kuraş, Nevin Sungur and Ümit Bektaş as speakers. MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş launched the panel with an opening speech, while Amnesty International Turkey Communications Director Tarık Beyhan concluded the panel. Both emphasized the importance of keeping up the struggle for freedom of press and expression.
Starting her speech by saying “We will not talk about war journalism today, we will talk about journalism in the shadow of war,” Altıntaş continued: “We are on the 75th day of the war in Russia and Ukraine. In this process, very strict policies regarding freedom of expression were enacted. Ukrainian and Russian journalists mostly came to Turkey, fleeing a repressive environment. Nearly 35 journalists who came here were supported by many journalists and non-governmental organizations on various issues including visa applications. A country that is jailing its own journalists has become a partially safe haven for some people.”
Amnesty International Turkey Branch Media Coordinator Fatma Yörür started the panel discussion stating, “Since war is the most current agenda, we decided to hold the panel on this topic. From the first days of the war in Russia and Ukraine, the struggle faced by journalists has been discussed extensively on social media.” Yörür then continued: “Turkey was ranked 149th out of 180 countries this year in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Turkey moved up four places in the index from the 153rd place in 2021 thanks to the civil society movement’s struggle against the pressures on the media. However, looking at the research on that topic, the situation is very difficult for journalists everywhere in the world. This year in our Press Freedom panel, we will talk about the conditions in war times and their impact on the media.”
Sungur: ‘Shutting down the opposition media is not acceptable’
Indicating that censorship of the press has always been a controversial issue, journalist Nevin Sungur said, “The pressure applied especially in Russia since the beginning of the war and the shutting down of oppositional media outlets are of course not acceptable. The desire to get rid of opposition, which we see in our country in a similar way, is a well-known fact.”
Journalist Nimet Kıraç said, “What the European Union is doing is stigmatizing the Russian media. The EU consists of countries that have come together over values, not land borders. What I would like to say about how people reach information during the war is that, in Ukraine and Russia, people mostly use Telegram instead of WhatsApp. News networks have been created in many different thematic areas.”
Asked on how censorship, shutting down and blocking of media affect journalists in the field, experienced photojournalist Ümit Bektaş answered, “A news agency sent a Russian correspondent to Ukraine. He has an accreditation, but he could not show his Russian passport to a Ukrainian militia. That would be very dangerous for him. Despite not working for a Russian media outlet, the journalist had to leave.
Ertuna: ‘Journalism is a collective job’
Talking about his assignment as an embedded journalist during the US invasion of Iraq, Bektaş said, “Most of the journalists in Iraq couldn’t follow anything about the American invasion of Baghdad for a long time. Because their mobility was limited. Unfortunately, situations like this happen during times like these. As for censorship, there are things that cannot be blocked because there is the internet. Information somehow spreads.”
Stating that journalism is a collective job, Can Ertuna said, “Everyone looks at the news in a different way. It is necessary to remember that this is a collective job, not only journalists but also editors should be considered. It is no longer only the job of journalists to tell the story. In fact, the definition of journalism needs to be redefined. We live in a new era and we need to rethink the news industry.” Ertuna further emphasized that “the banning of media outlets by Russian state institutions and the fact that they are made invisible is incompatible with press freedom.”
Touching upon objectivity in journalism, Sungur stated, “The ability of a media organization to make news that will remain objective against its own country’s foreign policy is related to the choice and power of that media organization. The New York Times was able to do that. There is an atmosphere in the Western media that supports Ukraine and invites governments to take a more active role.” Continuing her speech with an example, Sungur said, “While the BBC romanticized and heroized women who prepared Molotov cocktails on the streets of Kyiv in Ukraine, it reported on people preparing Molotov cocktails in Gaza from a different perspective, connecting them with Hamas. As long as wars exist, the topics discussed do not change. But as we continue to argue, we can find a way out.
Kıraç: ‘News needs to be seen also from the other side’
Mentioning that citizens in Europe are always able to somehow access news, Ümit Bektaş underlined, “There is no point for Russian media to be censored in these places. This situation has emerged due to show and commercial aspects.”
Explaining that going to war zones as a journalist is a career choice, Nimet Kıraç said, “I don’t want war. Instead of romanticizing the situation, it is necessary to look the other way and reflect the facts as well as reflect humane feelings in the news. I saw journalists trying to score points in a war environment. I was ashamed when I witnessed this.”
The panel ended with the May 3rd World Press Freedom reception, which was held after the question-and-answer session.