Journalists and arrests

ETYEN MAHÇUPYAN

The searches and arrests that are being carried out as part of the Ergenekon investigation are very close to exceeding the threshold of legitimacy. Several other people with links to the website odatv.com have been detained following the arrest of Soner Yalç?n, the owner of the website.
There are two names among them that stand out in particular: Nedim ?ener and Ahmet ??k. Both of them are award-winning veteran journalists that have worked to expose the Ergenekon network and have carried out many investigations regarding human rights in past years. As a result, at first glance the issue is freedom of the press and we can’t dismiss it by hiding behind clichés like “there are discrepancies” or “the judiciary must be impartial.” Naturally the profession of journalism does not give people the right to commit crimes. There are many examples of respectable people who have committed crimes, but in this case, the crime is extremely vague and complicated and the judiciary doesn’t seem to be trying to shed light on the matter.
The possibility that these two journalists would be arrested was first mentioned one week ago, when transcript of a conversation, the origin and accuracy of which is unknown, started to spread across the media. The short text established a connection between the activities of the journalists and the possibility that they were tampering with evidence regarding the Ergenekon investigation. We still don’t know if that text is part of deliberate manipulation. As long as these uncertainties remain, it seems the only other reason ?ener and ??k were arrested was because they wrote a book which they used for a particular purpose, but the “purpose” in this case does not concern only Ergenekon.

If evidence that these journalists are truly connected to coup attempts and plans are not made public as soon as possible, the moral burden of this operation will fall on the shoulders of the conservative democratic people. For this reason, it will be very useful for journalists who see themselves as a part of this segment of society to monitor this case carefully and strive to ensure transparency.

On the other hand, turning back to the searches and arrests, it’s important to note that these operations are carried out at the request of the prosecutor’s office and approval of the court. If the court has approved these operations it means there is convincing evidence. In addition to these two journalists, the former head of the National Intelligence Organization’s Foreign Operations Department, a police officer and the wife of a police chief inspector are in the same position as well. But let’s not forget that we don’t know how fair each and every one of these arrests are and whether certain people are trying to silence these two journalists by coupling them up with real suspects.

There is merit in touching upon two other factors that will further complicate this already vague and blurry situation. The first is that the judiciary has absolutely no understanding of the unique nature of the profession of journalism. What’s happening in the Ergenekon investigation is that everyone with ties to suspects is being treated as potential criminals, taking the crime as a basis. But journalism sometimes requires journalists to step into the world of crime and establish a relationship, which does not make them a member of an organization. Of course it is possible that some journalists are members of such organizations, but the judiciary can’t adopt an outlook that will restrict journalism based on that possibility.

The second issue is directly related to journalists and journalism. The same divisions that occurred in several institutions after the Ergenekon network was discovered occurred in the media as well. A different type of “investigative” journalist emerged. In other words, a type of journalist who published information and documents obtained for a certain source. As a result, journalists faced the risk of becoming an extension of the source of the information and became susceptible to manipulation. On the other hand, these journalists started pursuing documents that were more readily available to the extent that it fostered their careers. At some point they started acting as a side of the conflict instead of as a journalist. Quickly rising to the top, authoring a book and becoming popular are fine things, but if they prevent a journalist from being objective and impartial, then it will be difficult for that person to use “journalism” as a shield when or she becomes implicated in a crime.


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