Press struggles to cover conflict in southeast Turkey | News | DW | 09.02.2016
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Press struggles to cover conflict in southeast Turkey

The conflict between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces has received skewed coverage in the media. A group of journalists are trying to break the pro-government media's stranglehold on information.

For months, Kurdish militants and state security forces have been battling it out in the urban centers of southeastern Turkey, turning neighborhoods into piles of rubble that resemble scenes from neighboring Syria.

But, in western Turkey and the country's media hub in Istanbul, the conflict raging in the heavily Kurdish southeast may seem far removed from reality: shrouded in a fog of misinformation, disinformation or lack of information.

Since mid-August, the government has imposed a virtual lockdown on southeastern urban centers in its bid to root out fighters for the Kurdistan Workers' Party, but little is mentioned in pro-regime media about how this policy has led to the deaths of at least 224 civilians.

Nor is there sufficient and unbiased coverage of a human tragedy that is affecting at least 1.3 million civilians under curfew in places like Diyarbakir's historic Sur district and the city of Cizre, according to estimates by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation.

"The escalating conflict in the southeast is not getting the scrutiny and reporting it deserves because of the curfew conditions the government imposes and because there is almost no critical media left in Turkey," Emma Sinclair-Webb, the senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, told DW.

"There are enormous difficulties in getting objective and verified information about what is going on in Cizre, Sur and other places," Sinclair-Webb said, adding that in such a climate the risk of abuses rises dramatically.

Turkey regularly holds the dubious distinction of having one the worst media rights records in the world, whether determined by the number of journalists in prison or the extent of censorship or self-censorship in a media landscape dominated by pro-government mouthpieces.


Residents of the Sur district carry their belongings as they leave after clashes between Turkish special forces and militants

On the one side are mainstream and pro-government media presenting a skewed picture of the conflict by relying on reports of military "successes" from government and security sources.

On the other side opposition, leftist and pro-Kurdish media are under constant pressure as they try to shed light on the latest battles in a nearly 30-year conflict marked by abuses by all parties.

In this securitized conflict environment of media blackouts and attempts to suppress facts, journalists operating in the region have faced threats, abuse, arrest and even live fire from security forces. However, journalists are pushing back against the centers of power and information.

'After the facts'

Now in its second week, the News Watch (Haber Nobeti) initiative sends a group of journalists from western Turkey to the southeast to work with their counterparts in the region and bring the full extent of the conflict to a nationwide audience - as well as to show solidarity with local Kurdish journalists who often risk being jailed or shot to do their jobs

"The information flow is so restricted," Safak Timur, a journalist who helped launch the initiative along with colleagues and unions, told DW. "A big part of western Turkey does not have access to what is happening except on social media. We want to make what is happening visible audiences in western Turkey."

The journalists plan to keep up the momentum, reporting from the scene of conflict for their own papers, other outlets in the region and the project's blog.

Timur said one goal was to show the government that journalism is not a crime, but a public duty - especially during difficult times.

Tunca Ogreten, a journalist with the liberal Diken news site who visited the region with the first cohort, told DW that he he had gone to get firsthand information about events misreported by mainstream and pro-government media.


The heavy-handed security response has come under criticism from rights groups.

Such media are trying to make the government look good, he said, citing as an example the media's calling a 10-year-old boy killed in military operations a "terrorist" and the shooting of an award-winning cameraman who was also labeled a "terrorist."

"An initiative like News Watch is extremely important," said Sinclair-Webb, of Human RIghts Watch, "because it is about insisting on the value of independent reporting on the conflict, on the stories the government would rather you didn't hear, on the fallout of escalating violence."