Funeral of a Turkish teen killed in a suspected terror attack
Funeral of a Turkish teen killed in a suspected terror attack in June, 2010 Photo by AP
Text size

"We demand that the media re-examine their policy of covering terrorist attacks and ask them not to broadcast them in a way that might serve the aims of the terrorist organizations, even if they do so inadvertently."

This statement sounds familiar, but it's not from an Israeli information minister. Rather the words come from Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay, speaking at a special meeting organized by the supreme authority for radio and television which was attended by senior Turkish media representatives. The excuse for this emergency meeting, which took place last week, was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's criticism of some of the media for the way in which they cover attacks by the Kurdish PKK rebels on soldiers and civilians in southeastern Turkey.

"Who do they serve when they show the tearful mothers of the victims? Intentionally or inadvertently the media act as if they were supporters of the terrorist organizations," Erdogan said.

Turkey is once again waging stiff battles against the Kurdish terrorists after the PKK announced last month it was canceling the ceasefire between it and the government. The subsequent attacks in one week caused the deaths of 13 soldiers and five civilians and every incident of this type also leads to civilian demonstrations against the government for not doing enough to prevent the killings.

This struggle has pushed the Erdogan government into one of the most serious political and military challenges it has ever faced. On the one hand, Erdogan is trying to promote a reform plan that would grant the Kurds more rights but on the other hand, he is being accused by right-wing parties of being too soft on the Kurds and not showing enough "national responsibility."

Erdogan, who correctly fears that the terror will be exploited by his political rivals, is enlisting the aid of newspaper owners who support him to run a political campaign in his name.

The ombudsman of the newspaper Sabah, for example, proposed that "funerals of soldiers who were killed in terrorist attacks should be covered in a most minimalist way since people with a political agenda attend these funerals ... and they express slogans against the government. A funeral should be a private family affair. I don't say that simply about the funerals of the soldiers but also of the Kurds," he said. "It is essential to respect the privacy of the family and not to publish them on the front pages of the newspapers."

The newspaper has a daily circulation of about 400,000 and is owned by the Calik conglomerate, one of whose directors is a relative of Erdogan. It was Erdogan who helped the relative buy the newspaper after convincing two commercial banks and the Qatari government to give the corporation loans.

But other opinions are being voiced. "The demands for restricted coverage of funerals are for all intents and purposes censorship. Every opinion should be heard," wrote Ahmet Hakan of the newspaper Hurriyet, owned by the Dogan Group. The newspaper also reported that at a conference organized by the interior minister some of the speakers "advised" that people with "extremist" views should not be interviewed - that is, those who favor dialogue with the Kurds. Dogan's newspapers systematically criticize Erdogan's policies, but here too it must be mentioned that Dogan has a beef with Erdogan after the government sued it for not paying taxes and it was fined half a billion dollars.

The ombudsman of Sabah also has a problem with "breaking news," which is published without editorial supervision and "causes nationwide fear and panic." The reference is to news flashes that bring immediate reports of a terror attack and which in the eyes of the ombudsman could be a violation of the ethics code that states that news items that encourage terror or the use of violence must not be distributed.

This is also the clause in the criminal code by which journalists have been brought to trial in Turkey.

Clear guidelines were not sent out to the media in the wake of the special meeting but there is agreement, at least, that less sensational language should be used. Headlines such as "A despicable ambush - the PKK once again slaughters civilians" are not acceptable since they encourage warfare, and the pictures henceforth will also be less sensational.

No free electricity

When the temperature in Iraq soars to 54 degrees celsius and the power grid collapses, the citizens go out into the streets to demonstrate. Not against the occupation but against the government which cannot provide sufficient electricity to operate the air conditioners. Two civilians were killed in Basra last week by police fire during one of the demonstrations that take place almost daily against the government.

Iraq requires 14,000 megawatt hours a day but gets only about half of that and it will take at least two more years to build the power stations that can supply the need.

Meanwhile, Iraq has turned into a country of generators whose makeshift cables can be seen twisting between buildings. But in this respect Iraq is actually a good example. The Basra demonstrations led to the dismissal of Electricity Minister Karim Wahid and the appointment of Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani in his stead.

His first step was to announce that the discounts and benefits for government officials for electricity would be canceled and the number of hours that government offices are allowed to use air conditioning would be restricted. This may not solve the electricity problem but it might help the feelings of the public.