Journalism is a crime!

Four journalists have been arrested because they reported that villagers Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban from the eastern province of Van were thrown from a helicopter by soldiers. They were punished because they were doing their jobs.

Imagine an official ceremony. In a hall full of thousands of people, in Turkey, let’s say, a national ceremony is being held. The ceremony opens with the playing of the national anthem. Everybody stands up and at attention. Except for a dozen people, nobody is wandering around. 

Why is this group of people able to walk around? Is it because they do not respect the national anthem? If they were disrespectful to the national anthem, everybody knows what would have happened to them. 

But no. Nobody has a problem with them walking around; nobody is reacting. What do these five or ten people do? They have cameras, video cameras and notebooks. They are journalists. 

Those standing in homage know this. For this reason, their moving around, taking pictures and taking notes is not considered to be disrespectful to the national anthem.  

Everybody knows that it is because of them that those who are not personally present at the ceremony will be able to see and be informed of – simultaneously, a couple of hours later or the next day — what is going on or has gone on in the ceremony held. This is only possible when these people walk around, take notes and take pictures while the national anthem is being sung. If journalism exists, then they have to do this. For this reason, journalists cannot stand still even at ordinary “national ceremonies” while everyone else pays their respects. 

What would happen if journalists stood at attention? 

Of course, it is possible that even if a person is a journalist, he or she may be caught in the moment; they may leave their cameras aside for some time and stand in homage. We have seen this happen during several ceremonies. Does this make them more “local and national” than the ones who keep on recording and who keep wandering around? 

No, their actions only stop them from being a journalist for that moment. They have put the “national anthem” before their job momentarily; they have dropped doing their public duty and drifted away from journalism until the anthem ends. 

This stance does not give the right for them, and for those present in the hall, to stigmatize the others as “anti-patriotic and disrespectful to the national anthem” just because they kept on recording, observing, taking notes — in other words, just because they continued to do their jobs instead of standing at attention. 

Meanwhile, some of those among the dozen people wandering around the hall while everybody is at a standstill may focus on and record the actions of someone who is important or interesting. One of them may pay attention to a child in the hall, another one on a cat wandering, an old person crying, or people singing along sentimentally. Some of them forget the crowd and find the highest spot to observe, photograph and record the entire hall. While everyone is at a standstill, the journalists focus on a person, an object or an aspect of the situation, depending on the editorial policy of the media outlet that journalist works for. 

But nobody can ask them or accuse them why they have taken a picture of somebody and not somebody else, or focused on some person but not the other. Everybody knows that there are countless faces of “reality” in that hall. Even when people are standing silently, there are several faces of the “standing” and the “silence.” Those standing motionless may not know this but the journalist knows; thus, everybody respects that journalist’s knowhow and preference.  

If it were not so, then there would be only one camera in the hall and nobody would be allowed to move. This would actually make the ceremony “closed to the press.” This would be declared in advance. Journalists would not be taken inside the hall. Nobody would be able to see what was going on inside the hall or the diverse attitudes while the national anthem was being sung, except for the limited observations by those present. The recordings will not be available for the future. 

Either you declare in advance that journalists will not be allowed inside the hall and you regulate this, or you respect what the journalists are naturally doing once they are allowed inside. You cannot scold them because they were photographing while the national anthem was being sung, that they were wandering around taking notes, that they recorded a cat instead of the highest authority in the hall. If a journalist is present anywhere, even if everybody is standing motionless, a journalist will move around. This is how it is done. 

When a meeting or a ceremony is open to the press, it means journalists can be present there to do their jobs. If you accuse journalists — the ones who did not stand still while the national anthem was recited —  of being anti-national and reporting social incidents with an anti-state stance, then it is, in the lightest sense, trapping journalists. It is conspiring against them. 

When such conspiracy takes place, then journalists call out that “journalism is not a crime.” No law states that journalists cannot walk around when the national anthem is played, thus journalism is not a crime. No article in any law can state so. In no place in the world there can be any condition that states anything like “journalism is banned in this country.”

If journalism is not a crime, then even if the whole world observes a minute of silence, not just a hall, then again, people with cameras, recorders, or notebooks in their hands continue to wander and do their jobs. It is a crime to punish them for doing this. It is a crime against law, against history and against the future. 

You may ask: “What if the people walking around make it look like something has happened that didn’t actually happen?”

Right. This is the reason why ethics in journalism are extremely crucial. If there is a violation in this regard, then you have to prove the “thing” that the journalist claims happened did not actually happen with evidence that would convince everyone. You cannot just say, “I have a stick. I can say what has happened and what has not.” If you say so, you may not have a court that would find you guilty because you have been protected by a shield that makes you free of liability, but you would be committing a crime that you will not be punished for. 

Journalists have been arrested because they reported that villagers Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban from the eastern province of Van were thrown from a helicopter by soldiers. The reporters from Mesopotamia News Agency Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, Turkey’s only all-women news agency Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala have been arrested on charges of “reporting social incidents with an anti-state stance.” They were reporting on the incident for those who were not present “at the hall” where everybody was performing a minute of silence. 

While everybody else was motionless, these journalists wandered around “the hall,” asked questions, investigated, spoke to witnesses, researched hospital reports and found out whether the region had rocks. They researched all the details, took notes and collected what they saw, heard, found and knew in their news stories. I wonder if those who punished them were able to deny what the journalists wrote in a convincing way, but no, there is no need for that. Because those in the hall are more in number. Their power is more than adequate to beat up the handful of people in pursuit of the truth. 

In short, a ceremony was held, but it was not declared closed to the press. Journalists arrived at the site. While they were filming, reporting, taking photos, meaning while they were wandering around while everybody was standing still, they were punished because they were doing their jobs.   

Well then, is journalism a crime or not?