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Culture

World Press Photo award winner: Independent journalism is more important than the prize

Turkish photographer Burhan Özbilici tells DW what receiving the World Press Award meant to him. His photo of the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey went around the world.

DW: How did you feel when you found out that the World Press Photo prize was being awarded to you?

Burhan Özbilici:What is important to me is not winning awards but getting to do my job. I'm currently in Amsterdam and dozens of journalists and broadcasters are interviewing me with regard to the prize I was awarded. They are all asking me: "You're going to be on all the first pages in your country. How does that make you feel?" And I have explicitly told them that I do not care about the award all that much.

What is much more important to me is independent, honest and responsible journalism. I'm a journalist who believes in something and represents certain values. For years I was able to perform my job without having to make any concessions of my principles, and I never will. So to be honest I'm not exactly bursting with joy just because I received this award. However it is nice to witness the fact that the independent journalism still exists and is appreciated. That is rather satisfying.

The ambassador was shot dead right in front of your eyes and you've photographed those very moments second by second. How do you judge that situation when you now look back?

It was a horrifying, painful, terrible incident. I wish it hadn't happened, but it did. But if I hadn't been there, some other person would have been there instead of me. I could have run but I didn't. I simply did my job and fulfilled my duty as a journalist. At that very moment, when the Ambassador was shot right in front of my eyes, I felt on one hand as if my brain was frozen like ice and on the other hand as if it was burning and melting.

In a way, I penetrated that moment then and there. The person who was killed was the Ambassador of Russia to Ankara after all. At that time there was a global crisis unfolding because of Syria, and Turkish-Russian relations were very sensitive. It was an utterly historical and significant moment. What we're talking about here is an incident that really harmed Turkey. That very moment taught us once again how vitally important independent journalism actually is. No one else but independent journalists can see the truth and permeate the truth, and display courage to expose and show the truth.

World Press Photo Awards 2017 World Press Photo Awards 2017 - Burhan Ozbilici, The Associated Press - An Assassination in Turkey (Reuters/AP/World Press Photo Foundation/B. Ozbilici)

Özbilici's picture went aroudn the world

What kind of difficulties do journalists and photojournalists face in Turkey these days?

The situation is not very promising. It's not our job to make political statements, just like it's not their job to deal with journalism. It would be more than enough if they just left us alone. Independent journalism is the only condition for a society to survive. Every time I give an interview to the world's newspapers I witness the same thing: They considered the fact that I was awarded this prize to be newsworthy and report on it accordingly.

However, what I want to see is the value of quality, independent journalism to be recognized. I want the journalists who fight and work for independent journalism to have more support. We have obliged ourselves to do our job under all sorts of difficulties. As a matter of fact we repeatedly prove that we are capable of overcoming these difficulties. As far as I'm concerned, we will be able to overcome all the difficulties in Turkey, if no one interferes in the job of the other.

Interview: Hilal Köylü / Ankara

Burhan Özbilici, 59, was awarded the 2017 World Press Photo prize. Özbilici currently works as an Associated Press photojournalist in Ankara. He was also awarded the Izzet Kezer Photo Prize by the Progressive Journalists Association in Turkey for the same photograph.

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