May 24 2018

Turkish pro-gov’t think tank lays down terror reporting rules

An influential Turkish policy think tank has recommended the introduction of mechanisms to control language used to report terrorist attacks in the country, raising fears of further attempts to censor critical journalists in an already repressed media atmosphere.

In reporting terror attacks, the media must not criticise the state, but should condemn terrorism, spread messages of unity, ensure empathy with victims, and use appropriate terminology, said the pro-government think tank SETA's report on the Turkish media published on Thursday.

The Foundation for Economic, Political and Social Research, or SETA, is considered one of Turkey's most influential pro-government policy think tanks.

The report, penned by İsmail Çağlar, Kevser Hülya Akdemir, and Metin Erol, warned that slight differences in terminology may have a profound effect on how the reports are perceived by the public and noted that using terms like ‘freedom fighters’ or ‘guerrillas’ may show terrorist attacks as heroic acts. 

The report analyzes reports in Turkish media after 10 recent terror attacks in Turkey by the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), dividing up media outlets according to ideological affiliation.

According to this analysis, the report accuses the Kemalist-left media – BirGün, Cumhuriyet, and Sözcü newspapers – of featuring the state’s failures against terror attacks, not condemning terrorist acts, using hate speech rather than giving messages of unity, using terrorism to manipulate society, and supporting terrorism rather than taking the side of the state in the struggle against terrorism.

According to the authors’ analysis, implying any government incapacity in preventing terrorist events, not using the term ‘martyrs’ for the victims of terrorism, and using terms like jihadist or pro-Kurdish to pronounce the tendencies of terrorist groups are problematic. 

The report recommended the establishment of a government watchdog to follow the reporting of those events, which they suggested should also have the right to impose penalties. The report also called for the development of a legal framework to prevent ‘hate speech’ used in the reporting of the terrorist attacks.

The authors chose an unorthodox definition of hate speech, which included the words "jihadist", "sectarian", and "religious" when referring to attacks by the Islamic State, and even the word "police" as used by the newspaper BirGün.

The report also advised on tools for media outlets, including guidelines on ethical rules to be applied in reporting as well as a training programs for reporters. The recommendations in the report were perceived as a call for self-censorship by journalists working in opposition media. 

“SETA seems to be unhappy with us because we are using language that is in line with our principles and ethical standards of journalism. It ‘invites’ us to use official terminology. It waits in vain,” Fatih Polat, the editor in chief of left-wing Evrensel newspaper said on Twitter.