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Turkish journalists covering Syria incursion criticized for being biased, untrained

Embedded journalists of Turkey, who have been covering news about the country’s recent military action in northeastern Syria, have come under fire for being biased and untrained while doing their job in the conflict zones along the border.

The Turkish government launched an offensive in northeastern Syria last week, arguing that it aims to wipe out the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the region to create a “safe zone” for some three million refugees in Turkey to return to their homeland.

Ankara views YPG as a terrorist organization that poses a security threat along its border due to the Syrian Kurdish militia as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, which have waged a separatist insurgency in Turkey since 1984.

Since the start of the offensive on October 9, there have been many incidents where actions of the Turkish war correspondents drew reaction and criticism of veteran journalists and politicians in addition to social media users.

Ismail Umut Arabaci, a reporter for the CNN Turk news channel, was there when explosions hit the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn on the Turkish border, signaling the start of the military offensive last Wednesday.

With the excitement of hearing the explosions and seeing the smoke rising from them, Arabaci jumped up and down and screamed to the camera, “[Let me] go on the air! They’re hitting it [the YPG targets!]”

The reporter received criticism on social media due to getting overexcited because of the launching of a military attack.

“I felt ashamed as I was watching [the video.] I have never seen such a clownery. Shame on you,” a social media user said in a comment over the video footage of the incident shared by the reporter on Twitter.

Buket Aydin, an anchorwoman for the Kanal D news channel, received huge criticism over photos of herself in the conflict zone on the second and third days of the operation for allegedly not looking serious enough due to several reasons that include wearing make-up and a luxury watch.

A large number of social media users criticizing Aydın’s outfit and actions also included Turkey’s main opposition MP Mehmet Bekaroglu.

“What you do is serious. Babies die, civilians, soldiers die [there.] … And you’re posing as if you’re on a fashion show. How did you find the time for all that make-up? Shame on you!” he said in a tweet on Friday.

“You can only write empty posts with your phones. People of Akcakale know what I’m doing. … One way or the other, I’m there, together with our people and soldiers. I don’t care about you,” Aydın said in reply to those who criticized her, some 12 hours later.

 

Akcakale is a border town of Turkey’s southeastern Sanliurfa province.

In another instance, Turkish news agency IHA’s reporter Beril Solmusgil had an argument with several locals from the border town of Nusaybin in Mardin reportedly after she took photos of the license plate of a car that belongs to them without asking for permission.

In video footage of the incident circulating on social media, the IHA reporter is heard screaming, “We left our kids at home and came here [to cover the operation], so shut up,” to one of the men who she was arguing with.

Turkish police detained four people who argued with Solmusgil a few days after the incident.

In another case, a correspondent for the pro-government A Haber news channel, Kerim Ulak, is seen wearing a helmet and bending down during a live broadcast from Akcakale on Monday reportedly in order to protect himself from the mortars being fired at the time.

A few photos of those same moments, which were revealed on social media, later on, showed A Haber’s cameraman and a reporter for the Turkish state media channel TRT doing their job standing on their feet without wearing a helmet, while Ulak was on the ground.

A number of social media users accused Ulak of making a fictitious report so as to manipulate Turkish people into thinking that he did Monday’s coverage under extremely dangerous circumstances.

In a statement about the issue later on the same day, Ulak claimed that social media users who released the photos intended to defame him and the pro-government A Haber news channel.

“The mortars were passing over us. TRT’s reporter also did his coverage and immediately withdrew to a safer place afterward. We both acted like that because we wanted to be safe from the mortars being fired [at YPG targets,]” Ulak explained.

He did not make any further statements on the issue, failing to explain why A Haber’s cameraman was not bending down or wearing a helmet as he did.

Can Ertuna, an academic and journalist with years of experience as a war correspondent for the Turkish news channel NTV, told Hikmet Adal from Turkish news portal Bianet that reporters covering Syria incursion on the border are just there to say “We are also here.”

“The unpractised journalists who became a current issue following the start of the offensive last week, who report the conflict side by side, in the same way, show us that we’re not in a process of receiving news from different [sources]. What you see there [on the border] are mostly journalists lining together just to say ‘We are also here,’” Ertuna argued.

“What needs to be done is merely explaining the situation [on the war zones] in the region with a language free from hate speech and propaganda,” he also indicated.

Journalist Murat Utku, who has covered many conflicts and wars in and out of the Middle East, emphasized that universal principles of journalism also apply to conflict zones, where news should not be covered with exaggerated statements that are far from being realistic.

“Those covering the operation in Syria should do their job according to the universal journalism principles instead of reflecting the situation in exaggerated, unrealistic and misleading ways and using reflexes that belong to those who work in government institutions,” Utku highlighted.

Explaining that reporting from conflict zones requires special expertise, the journalist acknowledged that “we have recently witnessed many incidents of wrong examples of how to do it.”

“If one lacks the expertise, the result would be like the cases of those [reporters] who have recently drawn criticism on social media,” Utku explained.

Ulku Doganay, an academic and writer, held forth in a column in Turkish Gazete Duvar news website that the new generation of embedded journalism in Turkey is built on “absolute loyalty” to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

“These are not [proper] embedded journalists because they do not engage in journalism, they’re staging a performance. … They openly state that their mission is to announce to the world the success of Turkey’s operation in northeastern Syria, not covering developments from the conflict zone.”

Doganay also pointed out: “Nobody can talk against the ‘journalism’ done by Buket Aydin and the likes, which has turned into a performance of loyalty and a fashion shoot in these days, without having the worry of being declared a terrorist-lover.”

Turkey cracks down on pro-Kurdish officials amid protests against Syria incursion 

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