Amongst the many journalists that have fled the region since 13 October is BBC correspondent Feras Kilani, who reports he has traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan. The collapse of the security situation in Syrian Kurdistan is due to a Turkish offensive and now a counter-offensive led by the Syrian government, which has begun to deploy its forces in the northeast after having reached an accord with the local Kurdish authorities.
Saad Ahmad, a reporter for the Kurdish news agency Hawar News (ANHA), and Mohamed Hossien Rasho, a reporter for Çira TV, a Kurdish TV station based in Sweden, were killed when Turkish forces bombarded a convoy of civilians accompanied by Kurdish soldiers and journalists near Ras Al-Ayn (Serekaniye) on 13 October, killing and injuring dozens of people.
The convoy had set off from Qamishli with the aim of attending a protest in Ras Al-Ayn against the Turkish incursion. The Union of Syrian Kurdish Journalists told RSF that at least eight other journalists were injured. All were local journalists working for regional media outlets such as the Kurdish news agencies Hawar News and Firat News (ANF), the Syrian news agency North Press Agency (NPA), the Kurdish TV channel Sterk TV and the Iraqi Kurdish TV channel Rudaw.
“Northeastern Syria is liable to lose its journalists and become a black hole for news and information if the Turkish and Syrian authorities do not do everything possible to guarantee their safety and allow them to work,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Any attack on journalists is strictly prohibited under international law, which requires belligerents to protect media personnel along with humanitarian personnel and all other civilians.”
A France 2 TV crew consisting of Stéphanie Perez, Nicolas Auer and Yan Kadouch was at the back of the civilian convoy targeted by Turkish forces on 13 October, though none of them was injured.
The Internet was meanwhile temporarily disconnected in northeastern Syrian in the night of 13 October, making it even harder to access news and information, according to the Rojava Information Centre.
In response to the rising risks for journalists, RSF calls on media outlets to take all the necessary measures to ensure the best possible level of protection and urges those going to the region to consult its Safety Guide for Journalists, which is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Pro-government Turkish media channels and newspapers were proven to be faking their positions whilst reporting on the bombings. A reporter from the channel A Haber was seen trying to hide from “gunfire” in Syria though another reporter from the state-owned TRT channel and reporting from Turkey had him in the same frame. Cameramen without bulletproof vests or helmets could also been seen in the frame.
“They are saying that I was afraid and on the ground, wearing a vest and helmet. Others were not afraid and were standing up”, said the A Haber reporter attempting to defend himself. “They wanted to target me and A Haber over a single photo. If you want to smear a person, of course you use a photo and the viewer doesn’t understand the context. The reality is not like this. Heavy bombing had just started 50 meters away. The TRT reporter had just started to report and he also got into a panic. He cut off the report and covered himself. A mortar flew over us at that moment. Everyone fell on the floor. It was only TRT and us there. Our natural leaning pose was because we wanted to protect ourselves from mortars.”
Buket Aydın, a well known anchor woman from the national broadcaster Kanal D, was also heavily criticized for wearing a lot of makeup, an expensive watch, posing in front of demolished sites and sharing everything on Twitter. A member of parliament from the main opposition party CHP reacted to her, stating “You have a serious job. Babies, civilians, soldiers are dying. Families await the news of their sons at any moment. You are posing as if you were on a fashion show. When did you find the time to put on that much makeup? Shame on you!”
Aydın replied on her Twitter, saying “After having left our families behind and taking all the risks, it is not surprising to be a target of the terror organization while we are trying to report the fighting from Akçakale. But it is very surprising to be targeted by you.”
Syria is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, while Turkey is ranked 157th.