By Cüneyt Akalın – Elif Eral * The Article below was published in Геополитика (Geopolitics), journal of the Moscow State University in issue 9 – 2011.
Throughout the progress of the great law case targeting the anti-US/anti AKP (the Justice & Development Party in power) forces which have been going on for almost four years, the role played by the press has almost been as significant as the case itself.
The press, instead of playing its own role as objective newsmakers, questioning, investigating, illuminating the developments, has been the spokesmen of those who instigated the case, i.e. the police and the specially designated “authorized” public prosecutor. The majority of the press, headlined the allegations of questionable sources without investigating or questioning them in the slightest degree. With scare headlines people’s privacy was trodden upon. When the people whose private life was publicized committed suicide, taking it as an assault on their honour , those press organs continued the attack saying “the suicide was committed with orders from the illegal organization”.
The press played a special role in the Ergenekon Law case. This role was played not only by those members of press who are the proponents of the party in power. Those press organs who are politically in the centre and who try to keep a certain distance from the law case also served the government’s purpose by allowing for certain critical information to appear on their front pages. This information was the allegations made by the specially authorized public prosecutor and the press organs, by carrying them to their front pages made them appear as if they were facts. This kind of reporting, very distant from objective journalism, aimed at building a public opinion against the accused in the Ergenekon Law case
Secrecy of Interrogation Breached with Leaked Information and Documents
Since the beginning of the law case, some information and documents have leaked to certain pro-government press organs, mainly Bugün, Star, Taraf, Vakit, Yeni Şafak and Zaman. Other press organs carried the same “news” to their pages the next day, reporting them from the above sources. Thus, almost all the press organs, whether directly or indirectly played a role in this leakage.
The leakage was mostly done following the arrests and while the indictment was in the process of being prepared. The trace and search reports which the attorneys of the accused found very difficult, sometimes impossible to obtain; all sorts of seized documents claimed to be evidence; the accusation directed at the accused; their statements at the police and public prosecutor’s offices; shortly all the elements subject to the investigation appeared on the front pages of the newspapers. Even the accusation that was to be directed at the accused and the penalty to be demanded by the prosecutor also appeared in the headlines.
The press, disregarding the laws, carried to their pages hundreds of news reports which breached the secrecy of legal investigation. The same news reports were against the article 288 of the Turkish Penal Code which punishes those who try to affect the execution of justice in the court and against article 19 of the Turkish Press Code concerning publications aiming at influencing justice.
An example to these would be the following headlines by certain newspapers following the Ergenekon operation on January 22, 2008:
- The liberal daily Milliyet: ERGENEKON SEEKS SENSATIONAL ACTION
- Pro-EU liberal Radikal: ORGANIZATION WITH ARMY MEMBERS UNCOVERED
- Right inclined Sabah: MILITARY COUP TARGETED
- Islamist Yeni Şafak: CHAOS AND MILITARY COUP PLANS FAIL
Upon the newspapers’ publishing a fresh coup plan or assassination chart every day, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Istanbul had to make a public statement that “most of the published material is unfounded”.
Presumption of Innocence was Breached
Presumption of Innocence is the basic principle of modern law. Moreover, it is universal. According to the Constitution of the Turkish Republic (Article 34/4) everybody is considered innocent until a sentence is pronounced on the person. This principle was turned into “if a person is accused, s/he is guilty” by the Turkish Press and thus people were publicly incriminated. In short, the Turkish Press acted as a prosecutor in this case. The media with its press and TV organs named people “terrorist” and “putschist”. Though the 13th Assize Court of Istanbul decided that the phrase “Ergenekon Terror Organization” should not be used, since such an organization could not be proved, almost all the media used it.
Allegations were Treated as Facts
Both the news reports published as leakage before the indictment was officially brought and the indictment of the Public Prosecutor itself with all the sensational assassination sketches, chaos plans etc. were not treated as claims but as definite facts by organs of the media.
The Indictment brought by the “Specially Authorized” Public Prosecutor was that the said organization bombed the office of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, assassinated the supreme court judge, intended to make an assault on the NATO base in İzmir and was making preparations to assassinate Yaşar Büyükanıt, the retired Chief of Staff; Orhan Pamuk, the celebrated writer; the journalist Fehmi Koru; Osman Baydemir, the Kurdish Mayor of Diyarbakır and the Kurdish MPs, Sebahat Tuncel and Ahmet Türk. Certain names were listed under the heading of “Members of the Armed Organization and Activist Groups”. Using this so-called information, all the press led by the pro-Government organs carried the situation one step further. It was claimed that those listed under “Members of the Armed Organization and Activist Groups” were going to carry out the said activities. The reports were presented to the readers under such headings as “Planning to Assasinate Orhan Pamuk”, “Here is the list of the Nationalist Assasinators”, “Pl
anning to Assasinate Erdoğan (the PM) and Büyükanıt (Chief of Staff)”1
Some of the people who were indicted to have planned to assassinate many celebrated people were later set free but their discharge was not reported as noisily as their arrests and the indictment against them were given.2
Many press organs and columnists indulged in provocative language, starting a witch hunt. There were journalists who announced lists of prospective arrests in their columns or TV programs. On certain occasions, even before the police reached the location of operation, TV cameras had already started their broadcast. An example to this was the broadcast made by the official State Radio-TV Channel (TRT 1) from the residence of the retired Chief Public Prosecutor of the Turkish Republic, Sabih Kanadoğlu (who is a renowned anti-US, anti-Justice &Development Party public figure) stating “A police search was going on in Kanadoğlu’s residence” even before the police arrived on the scene!
All the Murders in the History of the Turkish Republic were committed by Ergenekon!
The Press in an urge to tie up all the murders committed in the history of the Turkish Republic to Ergenekon, implied and even claimed that every attempt at creating disturbance and terror and at assassinating a public figure originated from the so-called Ergenokon Organization.
The assault on the US Embassy was reported by daily Sabah on July 11, 2008 with the headline “It Smells of Ergenon,…”.
Right of Reply was Violated
While sensational details were chosen from the prosecutor’s indictment and reported, the principle of recognizing the accused person’s right of reply was disregarded. It is both a journalistic principle and the right of the accused to be able to have their say on the issue through their attorneys even when they are in prison.
Publishing Wiretap Recordings
Another violation was publishing the wiretap recordings of the telephone conversations of the accused. The recordings of the private telephone conversations between the accused people and their personal connections who were not connected with the legal issue in question were first carried to the web sites on the internet, then to TV news bulletins and newspapers and finally to the official indictment by the “specially authorized” public prosecutor! These private conversations were given to the public in sensational terms, using words like “Flash!”, “Shock!”, “Bomb!”. Among the tapped private telephone conversations, especially those that contained personal, intimate details were chosen and published. For example, the renowned 80-year-old columnist İlhan Selçuk’s private comments on the mannequins on the Fashion TV Channel to a friend were included in the official indictment against him!
Allegations about Perinçek Organizing Secret Meetings in Alawi Cem Houses (Prayerhouses)
Another absurd allegation was that Dr. Doğu Perinçek, the Chairman of the Workers’ Party had organized secret meetings with “tribe leaders” in Alawi Cem Houses.
Islamist daily Yeni Şafak, on July 2008, under the headline “Agartha Cell in the Cem House” claimed that “Doğu Perinçek was behind the illegal organization that the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT)detected within the Turkish Air Force in 2005…”3 According to the allegation, Dr. Perinçek was meeting with the leading members of the Balaban tribe and other Alawi communities. MIT, detecting the meetings, had written a secret report and sent it to the General Staff of the Turkish Army and this report was uncovered in the police search in the Workers’ Party Headquarters. Doğu Perinçek’s attorneys immediately sued the newspaper on the grounds that the claims were unfounded, defaming and violated the secrecy of investigation. The law suit brought against the Islamist press organ concluded with a fine against the newspaper.
Allegation that Nusret Senem Burnt the Computer Hard Discs
According to a report published in newspapers, on March 27, 2008, while Nusret Senem, Workers’ Party General Secretary was under custody, he had demolished the hard disc of his computer!
Nusret Senem being of the legal profession, the Ankara Bar Association was present at the police search as a supervisor and they made a public statement concerning the issue:
“The reports concerning the search conducted at the premises of the abode of a member of our association, Nusret Senem, do not reflect the actual facts. (…) It is insubstantial that Nusret Senem was caught burning the hard discs of his computers.”4
The writers of the mentioned reports were sued by Nusret Senem’s attorneys and the said newspapers were fined.
Is “fair hearing” possible when the personal rights of individuals are under assault and when people are declared guilty without a hearing, when the public opinion is deluded with manufactured evidence?
The era of the Ergenekon case, in the history of Turkish journalism was marked with a stamp of failure. The Turkish media forgot about its professional mission and actively participated in the procedures of the Ergenekon case. It assumed the roles of both the prosecutor and the judge. It both accused, judged and pronounced sentence.
It was made almost impossible to reach truth when journalistic ethic was disregarded and an unbelievable amount of disinformation was flying about.
Finally biased reporting reached such a point that journalists who had been neutral to the manipulated reports or even supported the manipulations became the target of new operations! This development created reaction among reporters and journalists.
The Ergenekon Law Case is a huge operation against the opponents by the ruling Justice and Development Party. That this operation was backed by US secret services was declared by the Opposition MP’s.
The press played a leading role in the operation by continuously publishing on their front pages the manipulated information leaked by the “specially authorized” public prosecutor and thus creating a biased public opinion. It became a tool in the hands of those who used “freedom” to murder truth.
The basic principle of a lawful state is the separation of powers. Under this principle, jurisdiction is independent of the legislative and the executive powers. Against this basic principle of Constitutional Law and democratic rule, the ruling Justice and Development Party used the institution of public prosecution and the police force under their control and the press became their gunmen.
The alienation of the press from the society and it dependency on the West on a cultural-ideological and informative platform is one of the gravest problems of the Turkish democracy.
The Ergenekon Law Case is one of the factors that will play a role in the moulding of the future of Turkey.
* Associate Prof. Dr. Cüneyt Akalın, Phd student Elif Eral, Marmara Üniversity, Faculty of Communications, İstanbul
** The Ergenekon law case is one of the biggest political law cases in the history of the Turkish Republic. It was brought against the patriotic anti-US and anti-government forces in December 2007. 86 high ranking people including a party leader, celebrated journalists, writers, officials and officers were arrested. A similar law suit known as the Balyoz case was brought against seniour officers both retired and active. Some active officers, military attachés came back to Turkey, leaving behind their offices in foreign countries to give themselves up. 163 senior officers were also arrested. With these two law suits the Justice & Development Party disposed of its strongest and most ardent opponents.
1) Ertuğrul Mavioğlu – Ahmet Şık, Kontrgerilla ve Ergenekon’u Anlama Klavuzu, (2010), İstanbul: İthaki Yayınları, p..401
2) İbid, p. 402
3) Yeni Şafak, 20 July 2008
4) Anadolu Ajansı, 20.03.2008