Watchful eyes of the world

İBRAHIM ALTAY
Published 30.11.2015 01:07
Updated 30.11.2015 01:09
Illustration by Necmettin Asma
Illustration by Necmettin Asma

The agenda of both Turkey and the world has been a quite dramatic one over the past week. However, we should look back at the week before and set our sights once again on the humanitarian crisis that is taking place right on our doorstep. On Nov. 22 we received a letter from the ambassador of Greece, Kyriakos Loukakis. This is not the first time we have received a letter from a country's chief of missions, and coincidentally those letters were also more or less regarding Syrian refugees. It appears that the coverage of the crisis is under the watchful eyes of both the international community and state officials.

This specific letter concerned the Turkish media outlets' coverage of the previous week's news that claimed the Greek coast guard sank a refugee boat. These news articles also contained a video of the alleged event. Daily Sabah was among those who published both the article and the video. But before going further, first read Ambassador Loukakis's letter so that I may respectfully reply as I have done before.

Letter from the Ambassador

"Dear Sir/Madam:

With reference to a series of articles which appeared in the Turkish media during the last few days, containing allegations that a Greek Coast Guard vessel deliberately tried to sink a boat carrying dozens of irregular migrants and refugees, I would like to inform you of the following:

- As formally set out in the attached statement by the Greek Coast Guard, the allegation itself is completely fabricated and untrue. A video posted on certain websites purporting to show the alleged incident is in fact part of a video of a search and rescue operation during which a Greek and a Turkish Coast Guard vessel cooperated in order to rescue a boat full of refugees. The fact that the video footage was deliberately tampered with in order to portray the opposite is extremely disappointing, as is the fact that a variety of Turkish media outlets hastened to publish it as factual, without any attempt to verify it.

The assertion that the video in question was shown by the commander of the Turkish Coast Guard to his Greek counterpart during the latter's recent visit to Turkey on Nov. 18 is also untrue. There was no such discussion at the meeting in question, which, on the contrary, focused on further strengthening cooperation between the Greek and Turkish coast guards. The fact that the meeting was exploited in this way undermines its very essence, given that these meetings take place within the framework of the confidence-building measures agreed upon by Greece and Turkey with aims to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation.

The subsequent allegation that the prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, made statements accepting the veracity of the aforementioned video is also completely untrue and its reproduction by a series of Turkish media outlets shows an unacceptable lack of professionalism, given that no effort was made to ascertain the veracity of this information.

It is indeed at least unfair that such allegations should be circulated concerning the behavior of the Greek Coast Guard, which has saved over 90,000 lives at sea since the beginning of the year and contributed to the reception of over 650,000 desperate refugees and irregular migrants that have flooded the Greek islands from Turkey in 2015. The Greek Coast Guard has consistently acted in conformity with international law and basic human decency and will continue to do so. There is no simpler evidence of the fact that Greek authorities concentrate their efforts solely on ensuring the safety of life at sea than the number of refugees that are flooding the Greek islands every day.

The root of the problem, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras emphasized during his recent visit to Turkey, is the Syrian civil war and the fact that not enough is being done to fight human smuggling networks that are operating between the Turkish coasts and the Greek islands. More efforts must be undertaken by the international community to address the Syrian crisis and, at the same time, more intense efforts must be made to ensure that these desperate migrants do not risk their lives at sea in the first place. Because, once they are at sea, it is simply too late and there is nothing left to do but to try to ensure their safety. The Greek prime minister emphasized that this requires more burden sharing on the part of the EU, the establishment of an efficient and dependable resettlement mechanism of refugees from Turkey and greater efforts to prevent human smuggling from Turkey by the EU.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that such organized attempts to misinform the Turkish and international media and the public serve no other purpose than to distract attention from our common enemy -- the network of human traffickers -- who, with criminal irresponsibility, encourage migrants to risk their lives at sea, adding even greater tragedy to the current humanitarian crisis.

Kyriakos Loukakis"

Our response

A press release from the Greek coast guard also accompanied the letter. Since Mr. Loukakis mentioned the points of the press release in his letter, we omitted it due to lack of space. It appears that the letter had several points, and the first four of them are related to the media coverage following the incident. Let us go through them one-by-one:

The first point of the letter said the allegations are completely fabricated and untrue, and criticized the decision of Turkish media outlets to publish the video without confirming its validity. As we cannot talk about the Turkish media in general, let us focus on our newspaper. When we look at the news article Daily Sabah published, we see that it was a wire report taken from the İhlas News Agency (İHA) along with a video taken from the Anadolu Agency (AA). The wording of the article was rather adamant of the fact that this video, along with its claims, are merely allegations at this point. The rest of the article only gave basic background on the locations related to the event as well as the current situation of the refugee crisis. While the title of the article could use the word "allegation," the article itself does not warrant reproach. However, there is one missing element from the news article and that is the response of the Greek coast guard denying the incident. By allowing both viewpoints, the article could be more thorough.

Considering that the article still lacks the response of the Greek coast guard after one week's passing, my suggestion for the editor would be that either the relevant parts of the ambassador's letter or statements of the Greek coast guard be included in the article.

Moving on to the second and third points, I came to the realization that this letter was addressed to the Turkish media en masse rather than Daily Sabah. Because further examination showed that Daily Sabah featured neither the alleged interaction between Turkish and Greek coast guard commanders nor the alleged statements of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Therefore, as far as Daily Sabah is concerned, addressing these criticisms does not seem necessary.

In his last point, Mr. Loukakis argued that featuring these allegations would be unfair because of the Greek coast guard's actions last year that "saved over 90,000 lives at sea since the beginning of the year and contributed to the reception of over 650,000 desperate refugees and irregular migrants." However, when we look at this year's media coverage of the issue, we find that similar allegations directed at the Greek coast guard have found their way to both Turkish and international media outlets. One such incident was published by Daily Sabah along with a video back on Aug. 13, for example. These allegations were categorically denied by Greek officials, however. If this was the first time these allegations had surfaced, delaying their publication until a statement from Greek officials was issued would have been more advisable. But, as far as Daily Sabah's coverage of this incident is concerned, publishing the allegations and clarifying that they were only allegations can only be regarded as an editorial decision. As I mentioned before, the only fault I can find in our news article is the lack of a statement from the Greek coast guard.

We will continue to discuss the subject if the need arises. But, in the meantime, my suggestion for our editors would be to follow up on their news articles if new information or statements emerge, fill in the gaps and verify information in the cases of publishing news from agencies.

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