Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Unmanned News Vehicles

On Wednesday, December 28, around 10 pm, Turkish air forces bombed and killed 35 civilians near Uludere. Turkish TV channels concealed this massacre for more than 12 hours, long after the news had actually hit the internet.

"İnsansız Hava Aracı" (İHA) is the Turkish term for an "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle," or a drone. It was İHAs that provided the "intelligence" leading to the massacre of 35 Turkish citizens near Uludere. Ahmet Meriç Şenyüz, a journalist who writes for the daily Birgün, calls the news agencies, which did not broadcast or publish anything about the massacre for more than 12 hours and then came close to blaming the civilians who died for being there, İHAs as well. Şenyüz calls such a news agency an "İnsansız Haber Aracı," or Unmanned News Vehicle (UNV in English) because "just as the İHAs turn all things alive into targets without differentiating civilians from PKK [militants], Unmanned News Vehicles serve all pieces of news that the state brings to their attention without distinguishing correct ones from false ones."

UNVs also distinguish themselves by not publishing anything before the state serves them the news in the form it deems appropriate. Around 11 AM on Thursday, December 29, Ayşenur Arslan had just started her show "Medya Mahallesi" (Media Neighborhood) with her guest Can Dündar. In the very first minute of her show, she mentioned what happened in Uludere the previous night, citing the press release of the governor of Şırnak, the province where Uludere is located (watch it online in Turkish on CNN Turk). She stated that they will cover it in detail later during her show. This announcement apparently prompted a CNN Turk administrator to send orders to Arslan's earphone and eventually come down to the production room during the live show. Arslan did not give in; but the incident is now recorded as one of the clear examples of self-censorship in Turkish media administration (read about the incident in Turkish on Gazeteciler.com).

What were the "Unmanned News Vehicles" waiting for? They were waiting for the press release of the office of the chief of staff. The "military guardianship" that the Turkish democracy was supposed to have gotten rid off continues to be felt strongly in the mainstream Turkish press when it comes to reporting on Turkish Kurdistan (read Yıldırım Türker in Turkish on Radikal).

While this case of self-censorship is alarming, it is actually not surprising since Turkey has the worst record on press freedom among all member states of the Council of Europe (read more on TrustMedia).