Monday, May 16, 2011

Secretive journalism

“'In 5,800 original pages [of Ergenekon charges] there is not one shred of proof that this organization exists,' said Gareth Jenkins, a Turkey specialist who has written extensively on the affair.

He has read the entire indictment. ‘They [the Turkish government] have created a fictional organization and used it to go after their political opponents,' he said.”

This quote is from our distinguished colleague Trudy Rubin's column (dated March 13) in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Political opponents.” Hmmm.

It is not unusual that trials such as “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer” will push many outsiders -- journalists, “specialists,” academics and others -- to act like defense lawyers or prosecutors, and it would be wrong to believe that they are all part of a savage campaign for the future of Turkey.

But much more importantly, it will remain a test of honesty and conscience for all of us. These two features will, to the extent that they are guiding lights, put all of us into the corner of shame -- or pride. This will happen with the ability to distinguish right from wrong, just from unjust, innocent from the suspect and from guilty, distortion from precision.

This column has always argued the following: There is not the slightest doubt that there were a series of attempts within -- what Jenkins tries to trivialize as “political opponents” as if we should believe in their legitimacy -- the military headquarters in the past eight years. The question is not if, but who was involved in those anti-constitutional, clandestine activities.

Further, there are increasing question marks on those trials' procedural matters, so that a constant constructive critique is necessary for a fair, efficient, swift trial for justice and for securing Turkey's fragile democracy.

This is the Internet age, which pushes for transparency. As I write these lines, I have already listened to a secretly taped conversation allegedly between the chief military prosecutor of the 1st Army, a colonel and four other military lawyers posted on a website.

If true, this lengthy conversation proves at least my first point, i.e., the question of who was involved in preparing for a coup, and to what extent, so that one can separate the innocent mid and high-ranking officers from responsibility. It is a sensitive case, so I leave it with that “if true.”

As opposed to dishonesty echoing abroad, thankfully we have colleagues with a memory and conscience. One of them is an old friend of mine, İsmet Berkan, ex-editor of the Radikal daily and currently a columnist with Hürriyet.

İsmet's newly published book, titled “Will the military hand over the power to us?” (referring to a remark in 2002 by Hüseyin Çelik, a prominent Justice and Development Party [AK Party] figure), deserves to be a “balancing” rejoinder to Rubin's column, since it sheds light on what really went on behind the curtains in Ankara.

“The documents found thanks to the Ergenekon probe, in particular the ones linked to the second indictment, are full of evidence on how much enmity there is inside the military on AK Party,” writes Berkan.

Page after page, İsmet Berkan goes into concrete details through recollections, conversations and anecdotes. There, one finds responses or confirmations for many questions on why there was “tension” between the top command in Ankara and the 1st Army in İstanbul and why there were massive, unusual troop movements by the 1st Army from İstanbul to elsewhere in early 2003.

There are more interesting details. The book tells of an episode in Ankara. In a meeting at gendarmerie headquarters in January 2004, the proprietor of Doğan Media together with the editor and Ankara bureau chief of Milliyet met with the top generals. Berkan tells in the book that he asked the editor of Milliyet what it was all about. The editor's response was (referring to the generals): “They have all gone crazy. They will stage a coup if one lets them, but they don't dare.”

What would you expect of these journalists? To report the truth, or at least find a way to alert the public to the illegal activity, correct? No, none of that. “Journalists” look the other way and go on with business as usual. Secrets remain a secret until conscientious colleagues reveal them. I need to add that these are the journalists who are among the loudest on the issue of “press freedom” these days. It reveals the typology of “mainstream” journalists in Turkey, and also sheds light on who really defends press freedom today.

16 March 2011

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