Not champions of free media after all
For the last couple of months, the trial of Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül has been followed closely by both local and international media. That two journalists were charged with espionage inevitably brought arguments concerning media freedom. Media organizations around the world are watching the trial and update their coverage with great promptness. We also wrote on the subject here in the Reader's Corner, "Pursuing truth as top court blunders," back on March 7.
Even consulate mission chiefs have taken center stage at points in the trial, as we mentioned in our article "A curious case," which was published on March 28.
The reason I mentioned the coverage by media as well as the presence of diplomats was to drive home that this is indeed a highly publicized case, and for that reason, what follows was doubly problematic.
Before the court hearing on April 1, three reporters who were there to follow the proceeding were attacked: Nazif Karaman and Dilek Yaman from the Sabah daily and Kemal Gümüş from the Star daily. The attack occurred in the courthouse. It is somewhat ironic that an attack against the press took place in the court where justice was supposed to be served, while covering a case that brought arguments concerning media freedoms.
The event started after the reporters mentioned above asked Can Dündar why he was suing journalists who were publishing coverage critical of him. Sabah reporter Karaman insistently asked Dündar if there was a contradiction in that he was suing those in the media, while he was claiming to be a defender of freedom of the press and ideas. Instead of answering these questions, Dündar chose to point out the reporters who were asking the questions to those who were there to support him. This approach led to things getting out of hand, as the crowd gathered around the Sabah and Star reporters to stop them from asking the questions. They proceeded to harass the reporters, at first verbally, which after a while evolved into physical harassment.
In the scuffle that ensued, a writer from the Cumhuriyet daily, Murat Sabuncu, threw a punch at Sabah reporter Yaman. This was corroborated by witnesses at the scene, as well as camera recordings of the event.
This attack was made against freedom of the press. It is also important because the attack also showed what Dündar and his associates actually think of journalism and freedom of the press. We said it before, but the attack also showed the hypocrisy of manipulating public opinion to influence court hearings and cover up the charges against them by turning it into an international issue of freedom of the press and ideas.
We convey our sympathies and best wishes for our attacked colleagues, while standing with them in solidarity. We also expect the authorities to ensure the safety of journalists as well as to bring the attackers to justice, these bullies who wish to silence the press.
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