The New York Times revealed Sept. 19 that its reporter Ceylan Yeğinsu, who wrote a striking story on the recruitment efforts of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the heart of the Turkish capital Ankara earlier this week, has been receiving “messages that threaten her safety.”
After her report was published, Yeğinsu not only received strong reactions from officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but was also targeted by the pro-government media, with a number of newspapers publishing her picture on their front page in a bid to trigger public outrage.
The executive director of the New York Times, Dean Bacquet, expressed concern about Yeğinsu’s safety, adding that the American broadsheet acknowledged that the picture accompanying the story of Erdoğan with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during Friday prayers was misleading.
“Despite this published correction, some Turkish authorities and media outlets have mounted a coordinated campaign to intimidate and attack the motives of the reporter who wrote the story. She has been sent thousands of messages that threaten her safety,” Bacquet said in a written statement Sept. 18.
“It is unacceptable for one of our journalists to be targeted in this way. We expect the Turkish authorities to work to ensure the safety of our journalists working legally in the country,” he added.
Bacquet also emphasized that the article did not imply “that President Erdoğan supported ISIL or condoned the recruitment of ISIL fighters in Turkey.”
Yeğinsu herself, a former reporter for the Hürriyet Daily News, responded to criticism of the piece by stressing that she was not responsible for the choice of the picture. Both the New York Times and Yeğinsu have said they stand behind the report.
Pro-government media campaign
Several pro-government outlets and journalists, however, have strongly denounced “bias” in the New York Times report, though none have published reports that could eventually contradict its findings.
One of the most virulent pro-government media outlets, daily Takvim, published Yeğinsu’s picture on its Sept. 18 front page, even printing information about her family. Her picture appeared next to a larger one of President Erdoğan, whose denunciation of the report as “shameless, immoral, treason,” were highlighted using a huge font size.
Another newspaper close to the government, daily Akşam, also published Yeğinsu’s picture on its front page, alongside headline stating, “The perception-shaping operation was homemade,” in reference to the fact that Yeğinsu is a Turkish citizen.
In its Sept. 19 edition, daily Takvim published testimonies from shop owners in the Hacı Bayram neighborhood of Ankara – where the original story was researched – who denied that ISIL recruitment could have happened there. The story was also picked up by daily Sabah, which is owned by the same group.
In addition to all of this, pro-government columnists and commentators added fuel to the fire on social media, with many quoting Turkish officials as saying Turkey would “never allow” such a thing on its own soil.
With the pro-government media becoming increasingly strident in Turkey, the list of journalists who have been personally targeted without their reports being properly debated is growing.
The Turkish government had also reacted strongly to the international media coverage of Gezi protests last year, particularly slamming CNN and BBC for broadcasting the demonstrations live. Since then, Turkish officials have formed a habit of denouncing reports they dislike or disagree with, particularly since criticism in the international press about the restriction of freedoms in Turkey rose, such as when access to Twitter and YouTube was temporarily banned.