By Neslihan Mina Onar
Terrorism is one of the most crucial problems of the 21st century. We have seen hundreds of terror attacks in the last two decades. Some of them left great marks on humanity. For example, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. On Nov. 13, 2015, the Paris attacks, where three locations were bombed in one night. The airport bombing in Belgium on March 22, 2016, and lastly the attack in Nice on Bastille Day on July 14, 2016.
These are the attacks that we know in a very detailed way. We prayed for the victims. We stood in solidarity with them. We became Paris by saying “Je Suis Paris,” and went as far as condemning the attacker who drove a bus into the crowd in Nice. But, unfortunately, no one talked about the Istanbul airport bombing which happened just a few days before the Nice attack. Yet again, no one changed their profile pictures to Iraq or Pakistan flags due to the attacks in Iraq and Pakistan, which killed more than 250 people each. It is not surprising that most people do not know because it was not in the news. This is because some of the countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran have no freedom of press.
On March 13, 2016, Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, bombed the center of Turkey’s capital, Ankara. The PKK bombed the main location for bus stops, subways, and workplaces. Nearly 40 people died and 125 people were injured. It was one of the biggest terror attacks in Ankara’s history. After the attack happened, Turkish government immediately blocked the main social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Also, RTUK, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, created a broadcast ban for all the main channels in Turkey. Some may think that not reporting the news of such attacks could be beneficial to the communities. It is understandable to think that reporting may create chaos among the people. There are people who would prefer not to hear about the bad news that is going on around the country. They choose to live as if nothing is wrong and go about their daily life, and choose not to see the real, more serious incidents around them. These decisions are made with the intent positively about the future. One might think that reading the bad news every day would not help us to see the bright future. But is ignoring the problem the real solution?
Journalism is supposed to be objective and transparent. Journalists’ essential goal is to inform the community. When one cannot find anything about a great incident, it may feel like some things are trying to be kept secret from the community. For example, during the terror attacks in Turkey, after the blackout, a new generation users of social media drilled all the bans and did everything to get access illegally by changing their VPN settings. Suddenly, accessible DNS settings became the most popular subject among the users. Banning the media outlets was not a problem for the new generation, on the contrary it had an appealing effect. Though, there were still many others who cannot have access to any information. During important incidents and terror attacks, some lost their parents, siblings, children, etc. When it is already hard for the people who have to go through such events, it is even harder not being able to gather details on the event.
Terror attacks affect a large number of people. Even if it does not affect someone physically, it affects mentally and spiritually. People who choose not to hear about the news are able to ignore the environment. However, people who choose to learn about the incidents that happen in the country are not actually able to reach the details because of the media blackout.
“A short while later, a court in Ankara issued an order blocking access to social media in an effort to prevent the dissemination of photographs from the bombing scene,” Ceylan Yeginsu (reporter for the New York Times) said.
Freedom of press is not only about media blackouts, or media blackouts on terror attacks. For example, there have been several Turkish journalists who were arrested or warned because of their stories. Even the photographs they used in their stories were a problem for the minister’s or even for the President of Turkey himself.
“Now even publishing a not-nice picture of Erdogan would be trouble,” said one prominent journalist, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because she feared she would be arrested, as many of her colleagues have been. “Now we even have ministers calling us and saying, ‘Why did you run that picture of me? I don’t like the way it looks,’” she said. The aftermath of those calls and warnings, might end up with the arrest by the police.
Can Dundar, a Turkish journalist who covered a story about the relationship between the Turkish Intelligence Service and the Islamic State of Iraq/Syria (ISIS), was arrested after releasing a government secret to the public. How can one be a real journalist if he or she will not work for public? “We call on Turkish authorities to stop imprisoning journalists for their views,” said Nina Ognianov, the coordinator of the Europe and Central Asia program of the Committee to Protect Journalists.