ARTHUR DIDIER DEREN
It has become commonplace, within the foreign media, to declare Turkish journalism hopeless, and to limit their analysis to flashy headlines underlining the number of journalists who were arrested. If the situation of journalists in Turkey is indeed to be denounced, pontificating from afar isn’t useful to fully understand it. What is the opinion of those who work on the ground?
We interviewed foreign journalists based in Istanbul working for big newspapers or as freelancers to ask them about their experience in Turkey, and to get their view on Turkish media.
Our third interview is with Italian journalist Giuseppe Didonna, Turkey correspondent for the Italian Journalism Agency (AGI).
Giuseppe Didonna is the Turkey correspondent for the Italian news agency AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia). After having studied in Turkey, he started working as a journalist here in 2014. The interview was conducted on 5th of February.
Since you are based in Turkey, which topics do you mainly write about?
I write about politics, geopolitics and economy. I wrote about major events that recently happened in Turkey such as the terrorist attacks, the coup attempt, etc. Now, I mainly talk about the Kurdish issue, the refugees and Turkey’s operations in Syria.
Do foreign journalists in Turkey collaborate between each other? Do you also get help from local journalists?
Yes of course. After a while, you develop your own network. I don’t believe much in WhatsApp groups. People don’t share what’s important on these groups, they share that with their friends. We help each other when we are in the same place at the same time. It happened in Afrin, for example. There was communication among us for practical things, such as access to certain areas. I also have good friends among Turkish journalists who are willing to help me.
Since you started working in Turkey, did you notice any changes in the practice of journalism?
During the state of emergency, everything was a bit harder. Everybody was more careful. I had troubles with the Turkish police a couple of times, because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At that time, they didn’t care at all about my Turkish press card. But in the end, what I understood from this country is that nothing lasts too much. When I arrived, it was easier, now it’s a bit better, in the between we had a hard time. But we must accept things changing and adapt to those conditions.
What are these rules, according to you?
Most importantly, getting the good accreditations, when you are told to. For example, when there were the chemical attacks in Idlib, many wounded Syrians were brought to Turkey to receive treatment. The Turkish government sent an email to journalists to warn them that they needed specific accreditations to go there. The same day, an Italian journalist was found there without any accreditation, and he had to wait two weeks before being deported back to Italy. Of course, it’s a problem when a journalist faces such a situation. But they had set the rules. Such things happened during the state of emergency. So this is one of the rules. What else? There are some people you have to be polite with. You also need contacts to have someone to call in case of emergency, etc.
Apart from these rules, do you consider that being a foreign journalist in Turkey demands to be careful?
Of course, there were some situations where we had to be careful, but this is part of our job. Being a journalist in Turkey is different from being a journalist in England. You can choose to go to England and report on the Royal family, and it’s fine if you do so. But if you choose to come here, with a 900km long border with Syria, with a conflict going on against the PKK and with a coup attempt that happened two and a half years ago, I think it is actually normal that you have to be careful. This country draws a lot of attention. So, as a correspondent here, you too will draw a lot of attention. Therefore, you will feel more pressure.
So, of course, you have to be careful, but this is the price to pay. Big things did happen here. Putin and Erdogan met nine times in the last 13 months. I don’t even remember the last time an Italian prime minister met Putin. This means something. What do you expect from such a situation?
Press cards being used as a pressure tool and it is unfair
Would you say that the situation of foreign journalists in Turkey is more due to the tense environment of the country than to an active policy implemented by the government?
I think that a lot of foreign journalists here are intimidated by themselves. There is a bit of paranoia. There was some exaggeration on this topic in recent years, because the pressure is much more on the Turkish media. The fact that your country has bad political relations with Turkey doesn’t mean that, as a foreign journalist coming from this country, you will be in danger.
On the other side, we recently saw how press card has been used as a tool of pressure. “Be careful because your accreditation cannot be renovated”. Such a warning, coming from recent events, it’s unfair and impossible to tolerate. I still hope those recent denials are related to administrative changes that involved the press card release process last year. I hope there will be a step back and denied press cards will finally be released. But the tool of pressure remains as we cannot work and not even renew the residence permit without a press card. So it’s game over. If they denied they have to provide at least a reason for that, otherwise it’s not about setting rules but threatening.
On one side it is about the government’s choices, on the other sometimes we see journalists blindly criticizing this country, in order to be published. I don’t want to blame other colleagues, but blaming the situation here is something some of them use to put themselves forward and doesn’t help the general situation of the press.
But, again, I think the real issue and real pressure is on the shoulder of Turkish journalists.
Can you count on the Turkish government to get information?
No. You can be in touch with them, but you can’t get information from them. We don’t have direct contacts with the president and the ministers. We have lower contacts. We talk to the press offices, but they are suspicious because they think that you are going to criticize them. I don’t agree with what they do, but I can understand them.
In Europe, it’s much easier to sell your articles if you criticize Turkey. For example, here, in Turkey, there is the best integration system for refugees, if compared with European countries. But you can’t write about that, because it doesn’t sell, and nobody wants to read that. So in the end, the government is not helpful. They can be helpful when it’s convenient for them. They tell you what they want to tell you. Sometimes, there are also problems of disorganization.
Apart from politicians, are people in general willing to talk to you?
People are scared. People were especially scared during the state of emergency. They are even more scared when there is a camera. When there is a camera some people don’t want their name to be used, even when they don’t especially do or say things that could harm the government.
What is your opinion about the Turkish press?
I think that there is still something interesting in the Turkish medias. The independent media outlets which developed recently are important initiatives. People coming from big newspapers bring the knowledge and organization into these new platforms. Besides, there is a general improvement of these platforms, I like following them.
Do you see a difference between the content of these independent media outlets and the content of the traditional opposition newspapers?
It’s mainly about the kind of news you are looking for. Everybody has the main news.
Cumhuriyet, for example, is still providing the best news, the best examples and the best statistics about this part of the society, which is unhappy with the situation.
Hürriyet has a more political and international look.
Diken puts a lot of attention on stories about press freedom, violation of human rights, civil society’s right violations. For example, when this German journalist (Deniz Yücel) had been freed and sent back to Germany, Diken had the quickest and the best reporting on the issue. Then it was followed by all the other media.